Four things we learned from No. 3 Kansas knocking off No. 7 Kentucky

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CHICAGO — The second game of the Champions Classic wasn’t quite as “artistic” (using Bill Self’s words for the first game) as Duke’s statement win over Michigan State but the clash between college basketball bluebloods still showed us a few things about two intriguing top-ten teams.

1. Kansas needs more help for Devonte’ Graham when it comes to creating offense

One of the major issues for Kansas on Tuesday night was creating effective offense in the half court. Last season the Jayhawks could rely on Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, and to a lesser extent Josh Jackson, to create offense. This current Kansas group is lacking players who can create their own shot in the half court.

The numbers that Kansas put up on the offensive end on Tuesday indicated the struggle. The Jayhawks finished shooting 35 percent (24-for-68) from the floor while their three-point percentage (28 percent on 8-for-28) was even worse.

The length, athleticism and depth of Kentucky’s defense wearing down a team that effectively played only six players definitely had something to do with it. But Kansas looked like they really needed some help for Graham out there. There are only so many times that the preseason All-American floor general can run pick-and-roll with Udoka Azubuike. Especially since Azubuike seemed to be at his best when he could seal and score on post touches.

Malik Newman (4-for-14 shooting for 12 points) struggled to score over length at the rim as he was often trying to do too much on the offensive end. Newman is still a potentially lethal three-point shooter, if he gets hot, but he doesn’t look like a shot creator for himself or others in the half court at this current juncture. Newman really struggled scoring over length at the rim against Kentucky.

Svi Mykhailiuk (17 points) hit some momentum-shifting shots from the perimeter, but he also had an average night on the offensive end creating for himself as catch-and-shoot jumpers remain his most consistent mode of offense. Lagerald Vick might actually be the second best shot-creator for the Jayhawks at the moment. That’s not really saying much. Vick also struggled to a 4-for-13 night from the field.

It will certainly help the Kansas offense to get Arizona State transfer guard Sam Cunliffe at the semester break. Freshman forward Billy Preston is also a noted offensive threat, but Kansas has a long way to go if they’re going to be an effective offensive team. Let’s just keep it simple: Graham needs more help.

2. Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox looks like the real deal

We’ve grown to expect Kentucky freshmen to immediately contribute and become key players since John Calipari has masterfully worked the one-and-done recruiting landscape over the last decade.

There were also some serious questions as to whether freshman wing Kevin Knox, rated by some services as the best Kentucky freshman, could be an effective and potential go-to guy for the Wildcats. The 6-foot-7 Knox answered many of the those questions with his stellar play on Tuesday night. Knox buried three first-half three-pointers as he finished with a game-high 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting.

Consistent perimeter shooting was always a major question mark for Knox throughout his high school career. But a hot hand early for Kentucky was a pleasant surprise. Looking like he was ready to play in a huge spotlight game while other Kentucky freshmen struggled, Knox carried the Kentucky offense at times despite not getting nearly enough shot attempts until late in the game.

When Kentucky found themselves down by two points with 33 seconds left, they put the ball in Knox’s hands, letting him go to work as his tough runner along the baseline rimmed out. Even though Knox missed a tough and contested look, just the fact that he looked comfortable the ball in his hands in a critical spot is an important development for a young Kentucky team that needs a takeover guy.

While Knox’s perimeter shooting could ebb-and-flow at times this season, he certainly seems ready to play during big moments. The development of Knox as a potential go-to bucket-getter this season will be fascinating to watch.

Kevin Knox (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

3. Udoka Azubuike needs more post touches for a struggling Kansas offense

Kansas was completely overmatched on the interior in terms of sheer bodies on Tuesday night. That didn’t prevent sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike from having a very solid night for the Jayhawks.

Facing four or five different Kentucky big men, many of them former McDonald’s All-Americans, Azubuike finished with 13 points and eight rebounds on 5-for-5 shooting, severely outplaying his Wildcat counterparts.

Looking slimmer and more mobile than last season, the power-based Azubuike is still at his best when he can manhandle lesser opponents in the paint. Besides for the interior buckets, Azubuike was also effective as a screener while doing a great job of walling up on the defensive end without getting into severe foul trouble. This game would have been very ugly if Azubuike got in foul trouble. Thankfully, Azubuike did an admirable job of defending without fouling as the Jayhawks didn’t have a lot of size without Preston in the lineup.

For as good as Azubuike was, one of the big problems for Kansas was getting him enough effective opportunities to make plays in the post. It seemed like only Devonte’ Graham was doing a good job of working the ball inside for post touches as the other players on the floor for Kansas often hunted their own offense while basically ignoring their lone post target.

Azubuike is never going to be a major scorer commanding double teams based on his post skill. But his power post game is a major asset for a Kansas team that needs all the easy buckets they can get at this point in the season. If Kansas is struggling on offense like they did tonight, they need to get Azubuike more touches to put pressure on opposing defenses.

4. Kentucky’s depth will still create issues and keep them in games

Kansas wasn’t the only team to struggle on the offensive end on Tuesday.

Kentucky’s offense looked just as ugly as they shot 41 percent (23-for-55) from the field and 23 percent (3-for-13) from three-point range. Point-guard play was also an issue for Kentucky as they turned the ball over 18 times — including six alone from freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Despite all of the offensive issues and only one player on the roster, Kevin Knox, making a three-pointer, Kentucky still found themselves with a chance to tie or take the lead with under 30 seconds left against a top-five opponent.

It’s a testament to how Kentucky can still wear opponents down by throwing body-after-body at them in all facets of the game. The Wildcats were able to stay in this game in the second half by hitting the offensive glass hard and scoring whenever they could in transition.

Even with freshman big men Nick Richards and P.J. Washington combining for only one field goal and 11 combined rebounds in 37 total minutes, Kentucky was able to throw talented depth like Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel on the floor to give another look.

Killeya-Jones, who spent most of his freshman season stuck on the bench, was particularly solid for Kentucky as his length and perimeter shooting helped the Wildcats. Finishing with eight points and nine rebounds, while blocking three shots, Killeya-Jones looked like another intriguing development for Kentucky to come out of this game.

It’s part of what makes Kentucky so dangerous. It’s a collective group with a lot of promise and potential that is still figuring everything out, and yet, they’re still staying close against a top-five team like Kansas. Like many Calipari one-and-done operations, we probably won’t understand Kentucky’s identity or personnel until the calendar rolls over into the new year.

Miles Kelly leads Ga. Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.

No. 17 Illinois rallies late, beats No. 2 Texas 85-78 in OT

Illinois v Maryland
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NEW YORK – Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining, and No. 17 Illinois rallied to hand second-ranked Texas its first loss of the season, 85-78 on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

Jayden Epps added 11 points, including the final five points of regulation – a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two tying free throws with 8 seconds remaining. Epps then blocked Marcus Carr’s jumper in the lane just before the buzzer to force overtime in an entertaining showdown at Madison Square Garden.

Matthew Mayer, who faced Texas several times at Baylor, tied a career high with 21 points as he made his first seven shots and finished 8 of 10.

Shannon, who missed eight of nine shots in regulation, took over in the extra period to help Illinois (7-2) beat a ranked foe for the second time this season. He opened overtime with a jumper after Marcus Carr was called for traveling and then hit an open 3 from the right wing over Brock Cunningham for a 73-70 lead.

Shannon then converted a reverse layup and finished off a three-point play to make it 77-70 with 2:16 left. Carr hit two free throws to get Texas within one with 1:28 remaining. Jayden Epps hit a layup, RJ Melendez sank two free throws to put Illinois ahead by five, and Shannon made two free throws with 27.7 seconds left.

Timmy Allen scored a season-high 21 points for Texas (6-1), which failed to open 7-0 for the first time since 2014-15. Tyrese Hunter added 10 points but Carr was held to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting as Texas had 12 shots blocked and shot 42%.

Texas took its only double-digit lead when Dillon Mitchell hit a layup with 8:28 left. Illinois cut the lead to 58-56 on a 3 by Melendez nearly four minutes later. After Cunningham hit an open 3 with 4:15 remaining, Si’Jabari Rice made a 3 for a 64-58 lead.

Allen found Cunningham for an open jumper that counted when officials called goaltending on Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins. That gave Texas a 65-61 lead with with 1:51 remaining.

Carr’s rainbow jumper in the lane made it 68-63 with a minute left and Illinois had a 3-pointer by Melendez waved off because it called timeout with 45.3 seconds left. After the timeout, Epps made an open corner 3 with 33 seconds remaining.

Hunter missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up Epps’ tying free throws.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini continued to struggle with turnovers, committing 17. But only two of them came in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation or overtime. Illinois’ 15th turnover was an offensive foul by Mayer, which sent him to the bench with four fouls with 10:42 remaining.

Texas: The Longhorns had little offense beyond Allen and Hunter. While the duo was a combined 13 of 29, the rest of the team missed 24 of 40 shots.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts Penn State in its second Big Ten game on Saturday. The Illini lost their conference opener to No. 13 Maryland.

Texas hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Jimmy Blacklock Classic on Saturday.

Clark, Gardner lift No. 3 Virginia past James Madison, 55-50

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark scored 18 points, Jayden Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds, and No. 3 Virginia beat feisty in-state rival James Madison 55-50 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (8-0), who lost starting guard Reece Beekman to a right leg injury early in the first half, prevented the Dukes (7-3) from winning a second straight December game in Charlottesville. James Madison beat Virginia 52-49 last Dec. 7.

Clark had seven assists while playing nearly 39 minutes with Beekman sidelined.

“Kihei gave everything he had and I had to, you know, ride him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Sure, he missed some free throws. And I know he made some mistakes, but you could just see him, you know, how tough-minded he was.”

Dukes coach Mark Byington said he told Clark – who’s playing his fifth season for Virginia – after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. … So I told him this time I was like, `Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’ But he’s one of my favorite players to watch just because he’s tough, talented, and he’s a winner.”

Takal Molson scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for James Madison, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-all with 7:47 to play. Gardner responded for Virginia by scoring five straight points in a 9-1 run.

The Cavaliers kept the Dukes in the game by missing eight of 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Molson made an acrobatic layup while being fouled with 1:51 left, but he missed the free throw. He scored again with 1:01 left, pulling the Dukes within 52-50, but freshman Ryan Dunn answered with a strong move on the baseline for Virginia with 35 seconds to play.

James Madison threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

BIG PICTURE

James Madison: The Dukes came into the game leading the nation in scoring (93.3 points per game) and having scored as many as 95 points five times. They were shooting 52.7% for the year, but made just four of their first 19 shots and finished 15 of 55 (26.9%). Vado Morse scored 11 points, the only other JMU player in double figures.

“Yeah, we knew how good they were and they showed it in spots tonight,” Gardner said. “But I think you saw a lot of resiliency tonight on the defensive end getting crucial stops.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers played the final 36 minutes without Beekman and gave extensive minutes to freshman Isaac McKneely. Virginia will hope Beekman, its third-leading scorer and a primary ballhandler and defender, recovers in time for its showdown with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

UP NEXT

The Dukes return home to play Gallaudet on Saturday night.

Virginia has a 10-day break before hosting the top-ranked Cougars.

No. 25 Villanova women beat American University 83-42

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VILLANOVA, Pa. – Maddy Siegrist had 24 points and seven rebounds, Lucy Olsen added 14 points and No. 25 Villanova beat American University 83-42 on Tuesday night.

Siegrist scored 15 points in the opening 13 minutes as Villanova led 34-15. The Wildcats extended it to 46-23 by halftime before starting the second half on a 9-0 run for a 32-point lead.

Villanova added an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter for its largest lead of the game at 79-36. The Wildcats held American to 15-of-50 shooting (30%) and scored 21 points off 19 turnovers.

Christina Dalce scored 13 points for Villanova (8-2), which plays Saint Joseph’s on Saturday before taking a week off for final exams. Siegrist, who was coming off a 29-point performance on Sunday, made 10 of 17 shots as Villanova shot 56%.

Emily Johns scored 12 points for American (0-8), which hosts Marist (3-5) on Saturday.

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

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STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.