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No. 5 Kentucky beats No. 24 South Carolina despite De’Aaron Fox ankle injury

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Malik Monk scored 27 points and Bam Adebayo added 18 as No. 5 Kentucky rolled over No. 24 South Carolina, 85-69, in Rupp Arena on Saturday evening.

The win kept the Wildcats undefeated in the SEC and set the stage for a battle of top five teams when No. 1 Kansas comes to Lexington next weekend.

South Carolina got 34 points out of Sindarius Thornwell, who was terrific on Saturday, but the rest of the starting lineup combined for 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting.

Here are three things that we can take away from this game:

1. The Wildcats have firm control over the SEC title race: We already knew this entering the year, but after seeing Florida and South Carolina enter this week without a loss in league play, there was reason to think – to hope? – that maybe someone would make the race entertaining.

It doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

On the same day that Florida lost a home game to Vanderbilt, dropping them two games off of the pace atop the conference, the Gamecocks lost the only game that they’ll play against Kentucky this season. South Carolina looked like the only team capable of picking off UK in league play, but without a return game, it’s hard to imagine Frank Martin’s club will be able to make up the ground.

2. Kentucky’s supporting cast stepped up: Monk was awesome on Saturday, but Kentucky’s other two stars – Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox – didn’t do much. Fox left the game midway through the first half with an ankle injury – more on that below – and Briscoe was, frankly, atrocious, going scoreless and committing seven turnovers against South Carolina’s overwhelming defense.

But even with their best players struggling, Kentucky was able to breeze to a pretty easy win against the only other undefeated team in the SEC. Adebayo was dominant in the paint, finishing with 18 points, but more important was the performance of Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel. Gabriel, who was averaging 12 boards in his last two games entering the weekend, had 11 points and five boards and his three more threes while Willis finished with 12 points, seven boards and one facial.

It’s comforting for Kentucky to know they can beat the second-best team in the SEC by 16 points on a night where two of their three starting guards provide basically nothing.

3. Injuries overshadowed everything else: Unfortunately for South Carolina, they probably never had a chance in this one once news came down that P.J. Dozier would miss the game with back spasms. Thornwell has, unquestionably, been the best player for the Gamecocks this season, but with Thornwell out of the lineup for six games earlier in the year, Dozier stepped in and looked the part of being a McDonald’s All-American. With Dozier, who is the second-best offensive weapon on the roster, South Carolina entered Saturday ranked 175th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. You cannot expect to compete with Kentucky without having the horses to run with them.

But midway through the first half, Kentucky lost De’Aaron Fox to a right ankle injury. It didn’t appear to be all that serious – Fox didn’t even limp immediately after he rolled the ankle over – but he sat out the second half of the game.

Fox returned to the bench wearing a walking boot. His status going forward will be something to monitor. It would be a shame if he had to miss Saturday’s showdown with Kansas in Rupp Arena.

“It’s not swelled,” head coach John Calipari told reporters after the game. “I think it might’ve been a stinger. I don’t know. But something hit his ankle.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.