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No. 12 Oklahoma closes Big 12 gap on No. 5 Kansas behind Trae Young’s 26

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If you’re simply looking at the stat line, it would seem like Tuesday night’s win over No. 5 Kansas was a typical Trae Young game.

The star point guard for No. 12 Oklahoma finished with 26 points, nine assists, four boards, two steals and five turnovers, which is roughly what he has averaged throughout the season. The difference here, however, was that Young, just three days removed from taking 39 shots in a loss at Oklahoma State and less than a week removed from turning the ball over 12 times in a loss at Kansas State, shot the ball just nine times.

He was 7-for-9 from the floor. He was 2-for-3 from three and 10-for-12 from the line. He was more focused on distributing the ball and getting his teammates involved than he has been in any game this season, and the result was a critical, 85-80 win over the Jayhawks.

Oklahoma entered Tuesday night trailing Kansas by two games in the conference along with … well, everyone else: West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas State. This was the second loss the Jayhawks have taken in the Big 12 and it means that their lead over the field was cut in half.

Put another way, an outright regular season title is still a possibility for Oklahoma — and everyone else chasing Kansas.

There’s no two ways around it. This was a massive win and an excellent performance from Young.

The question I have is whether or not this version of The Trae Young Show is something that is sustainable for Oklahoma in the long-term.

Because I’m not sure that it is.

The narrative coming out of this game is going to be that Young, having lost a pair of road games in a league where no one wins on the road, came home and beat the conference favorites after Selfish Trae Young morphed into Unselfish Trae Young. And credit where it is due, Young made an active and impressive decision to get everyone else on the roster involved. He played differently, no one is disputing that.

But I’d argue that Lon Kruger’s decision to foul Udoka Azubuike on four possessions in the final four minutes — and Bill Self’s decision to leave Azubuike in the game — is what changed this game. Azubuike is a 41 percent free throw shooter that missed six straight free throws, two of which were front-ends, after a Malik Newman layup gave Kansas a 78-74 lead with 4:02 left. The Jayhawks would score just a single basket the rest of the game, one of only three possessions they had in those four minutes when the game wasn’t in doubt and Azubuike wasn’t on the free throw line.

That had as much to do with Oklahoma’s game-ending 11-2 run as anything else.

I also think it’s important to note that, on Saturday, Oklahoma’s supporting cast shot 14-for-43 from the floor and 2-for-15 from three. On Tuesday night, they were 21-for-48 (43.8%) from the field and 7-for-20 (35%) from three. That’s an improvement, there is no question about that, but it’s not a better or more efficient offensive option than asking Young to be aggressive is. Put another way, it’s not selfish to shoot a lot if your shots are the best way for your team to score.

Kruger needed to reel Young in a little bit after last week.

No one is going to argue that.

As I wrote here, Young needs to trust his teammates more and his teammates need to give him more reason to trust them. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, on Oklahoma’s final two possessions, Young found Christian James and then Brady Manek for the go-ahead and game-sealing threes. Compare that to the Oklahoma State, when Young forced deep threes over multiple defenders at the end of regulation and overtime, possessions where the Sooners could have won the game at the buzzer.

But I also think we can all agree that for Oklahoma to reach their ceiling, they cant make a habit out of James, Manek and Kameron McGusty taking 29 shots and Young getting just nine.

Because this win, as important as it was, was not Oklahoma’s ceiling, not unless you think a home win aided by intentional fouls against a good-but-far-from-great Kansas team that saw their best player shoot 4-for-19 from the floor is super-impressive.

Christian Vital going back to UConn for junior season

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Dan Hurley is keeping his roster intact at the top.

Christian Vital, UConn’s second-leading scorer a season ago, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, he announced Monday via social media.

“Great Talk Today Coach! Appreciate The Wisdom You Have Let Me In On!” Vital wrote “I Think It’s Time To Get Back To Winning Ways In Storrs! I’m Going To Need That #1 Back ASAP! WE GOT (UNFINISHED) BUSINESS!”

The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be Vital joins Jalen Adams, who was the Huskies’ top-returning scorer, back in Storrs in Hurley’s first year. Vital averaged 14.9 points on 38.3 percent shooting. Adams previously announced he would return to school without declaring for the draft.

The return of UConn’s top two scorers underscores an even bigger trend under Hurley as the Huskies appear to have avoided any major defections from last year’s roster despite the coaching change.

UConn is coming off a 14-18 season that proved to be the last of coach Kevin Ollie’s six years with the Huskies that included a national championship but also back-to-back losing seasons.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

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South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

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Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.

Georgia Tech’s Okogie to sign with agent

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Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie, one of the big winners from this past weekend’s NBA combine, announced on Monday that he will be signing with an agent and remaining in the NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-4 Okogie finished his sophomore season averaged 18.5 points and shooting 38.4 percent from three. The numbers he posted during the athletic testing at the combine, as well as his 7-foot wingspan, makes Okogie an ideal 3-and-D wing at the NBA level.

“Josh is a tremendous young man and an excellent student-athlete,” said head coach Josh Pastner. “He has set a tremendous example, making the Dean’s List this past semester, and deserves a lot of credit for making himself a much better player over the course of his two years here. We will miss him in our program in many respects, from his performance on the court to the energy he plays with and brought to our team. We fully support his decision to take this next step, and wish him all the best.”