WEEKLY AWARDS: Utah is legit, Johnathan Motley’s big week

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Johnathan Motley, Baylor

The Bears entered one of their most important weeks of the regular season with Rico Gathers limited due to an illness and they managed to land a win over Iowa State and a blowout victory at Texas.

And it was Johnathan Motley that was the star.

The sophomore center thrived without Gathers clogging up the paint, averaging 25.5 points and 7.0 boards in the wins while shooting 73.3 percent from the floor. And while I don’t exactly buy the argument that the Bears are better without Gathers on the floor, it’s good to know that they can survive without him. This is not a team that entered the season with a ton of depth in their front court, and to see Motley — and Terry Maston — play this well is assuring.


  • Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Utah became the first team in the Pac-12 to sweep two road weekends in league play with wins at USC and UCLA, and Poeltl was the star. Against USC on Sunday, he had 29 points, 13 boards, four assists and four steals.
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: The Spartans picked up wins over Indiana and Wisconsin by a combined 31 points since last Sunday, and Valentine averaged 27.0 points, 11.5 assists and 6.0 boards in those two wins. Remember when I said Valentine is still in the Player of the Year race?
  • Brice Johnson, North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost to Duke at home on Wednesday, but it wasn’t Brice Johnson’s doing; he had 29 points and 19 boards. He also followed that up with 16 points and 15 boards in a blowout win over Miami.
  • Troy Williams, Indiana: Indiana played just one game this week, but it was an impressive win over Purdue at home where Williams finished with 19 points.
  • Josh Adams, Wyoming: Adams put together one of the best individual performances we’ve seen this season on Saturday. He had 37 points, eight assists, seven boards, four steals and two blocks while hitting nine threes in a blowout road win.


The Utes profile just continues to get stronger and stronger, and I’m not sure if people realize just how high this team is going to be seeded in the NCAA tournament. They’ve aided by the fact that some of their early-season wins — Duke, Texas Tech, Cal, IPFW — look better now than they did at the time, but that shouldn’t take away from their body of work.

Utah is now sitting one game out of first place in the Pac-12 in the loss column with all three of their remaining games coming at home. They’ve lost just one game at home this season, and of their seven losses on the year, Stanford is the only team that sits outside the top 50. They have three top 25 wins, six top 50 wins and 14 top 100 wins.

They also just became the first team to have two road sweeps in league this season. They’re really, really good.


  • Indiana: The Hoosiers moved into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with their Saturday night win over Purdue, a win that, until the final five minutes, was their most impressive performance of the season. The Hoosiers out-toughed the Boilermakers and gave up just four offensive rebounds to one of the nation’s biggest and most physical front lines.
  • Louisville: I’m not going to lie: I was half expecting the Cardinals to roll over and die after getting the news of their post season ban. An 0-2 week two weeks ago didn’t help matters. But credit to this group: They haven’t quit. After beating Syracuse on Wednesday, they landed an impressive come-from-behind win over the Blue Devils on Saturday.
  • Cal: The Golden Bears have now won five straight games and look to be peaking at the right time. Most important here: Their two wins this week both came on the road, which doubled the number of wins they had away from Haas Pavilion on the season.
  • Texas Tech: The win over Oklahoma on Wednesday is the reason that the Red Raiders are on this list. Believe it or not, Tubby Smith has Tech in line for an NCAA tournament bid. He’s doing a terrific job at a place where it is really difficult to win.
  • Texas A&M: The Aggies bounced back from a really tough stretch in the SEC by beating Mississippi and Kentucky this week, even if the latter came under questionable circumstances.


No. 7 Virginia at No. 11 Miami, Mon. 7:00 p.m.
No. 13 Iowa State at No. 10 West Virginia, Mon. 9:00 p.m.
No. 2 Kansas at No. 25 Baylor, Tue. 8:00 p.m.
No. 1 Villanova at No. 8 Xavier, Wed. 7:00 p.m.
No. 18 Louisville at No. 11 Miami, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 12 Arizona at Utah, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 6 Maryland at No. 17 Purdue, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 5 North Carolina at No. 7 Virginia, Sat. 6:30 p.m.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”


Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.


Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.


Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.


At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.


Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.