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Sense of urgency, tough stretch ahead for No. 24 Kentucky

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — There is a sense of urgency looming over Kentucky.

The 24th-ranked Wildcats have struggled and now face a challenging stretch that could determine whether they compete for a fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference regular season championship.

Already three games behind No. 8 Auburn, the Kentucky (17-6, 6-4) host No. 15 Tennessee (17-5, 7-3) on Tuesday before hitting the road for games at Texas A&M on Saturday and against the streaking No. 8 Tigers on Feb. 14.

One of the areas Kentucky needs to focus on is its offense after posting season lows in last week’s 69-60 loss at Missouri . The Wildcats shot just 31 percent and 2 of 20 from long range, resulting in their lowest total.

“To make better shots we have to get better looks, the looks we think we can make,” sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones said Monday.

“It’s not a matter of us shooting 20 3’s every game, but obviously we have to make more than two. That’s just going to come with offensive continuity, learning to play with each other and more ball movement to get those better shots.”

Kentucky seemed to be developing an offensive flow with comeback wins against No. 19 West Virginia and Vanderbilt, where the Wildcats overcame double-digit deficits.

The Wildcats started off better at Mizzou before breakdowns on both ends resulted in a Tigers’ 10-0 run that seized the lead for good.

Kentucky coach John Calipari has used that loss to stress the importance of defense to players who arrived in Lexington with offense-first mindsets — hoping to change their thinking in hopes of creating more — and better— offensive opportunities.

“If you defend and we get out and run, you’re going to be fine,” Calipari said. “But if they’re scoring and they’re being the aggressor on defense, you really have issues so I’m as concerned defensively.”

Kentucky’s challenge is slowing a Tennessee squad that has won five in a row, including Saturday’s 94-61 home rout of Mississippi.

The Volunteers beat Kentucky 76-65 last month in Knoxville and seek their first season sweep since 1998-99. It won’t be easy, considering they’ve won just four times at Rupp Arena and have lost 10 consecutive visits dating back to 2006.

“The biggest thing for us is we can’t worry about them or the crowd or the scene,” Vols junior forward Admiral Schofield said. “We’ve got to worry about ourselves like we’ve been doing, guarding and competing at a high level and sticking together.”

The Wildcats’ hope to extend Tennessee’s misery but know that requires better execution — particularly with hostile environments looming after Tuesday.

“The biggest thing is just playing 40 minutes,” Kentucky freshman forward PJ Washington said. “We have to start off games a lot better. I felt like we didn’t really start off that really good and we should be able to get teams down really early, and we need to start working on that.”

Notes: Calipari said sophomore forward Tai Wynyard and freshman guard Jemarl Baker likely won’t play this season because of injuries. Wynyard has been bothered by a back issue while Baker is recovering from left knee surgery last fall.

High school basketball player collapses, dies at AAU event

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James Hampton, a member of Team United and a senior at Liberty Heights, a private high school in Charlotte, collapsed and died during a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League game on Saturday night.

Hampton was 17 years old.

In the second half of a game against Nike Phamily, a Phoenix-based program that is run by the father of Marvin Bagley III, Hampton collapsed to the floor unresponsive. Trainers at the event began CPR on and administered chest compressions. Parademics arrived within 10 minutes, but Hampton could not be revived.

The cause of death has not yet been released, but this is not the first time that Hampton had an issue. Last spring, at an event in the Washington D.C. area, Hampton collapsed on the court and had to be given CPR.

“He just fell down on the floor,” Team United director Jacoby Davis told the Charlotte Observer. “He had seizures a year ago and I remember (one of the Team United coaches) telling me that, ‘I saw his eyes rolling back in his head.’ I ran on the court thinking he was having a seizure. A trainer came over and said he didn’t know what was wrong. Another trainer checked his pulse. He said he didn’t have a pulse. It got crazy after that.”

RIP James Hampton.

Nevada’s Jordan Caroline pulls out of 2018 NBA Draft

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Jordan Caroline has opted to pull his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft as he will return to Nevada for his senior season, he announced on Saturday.

The 6-foot-7 Caroline put together a strong season for the Wolf Pack as he averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as Nevada made the Sweet 16 behind one of the most talented offenses in the country.

Caroline’s return is a huge boost for Nevada as they still await the NBA draft decisions of Caleb and Cody Martin.

Currently ranked No. 17 in the Preseason Top 25 (without the Martin twins), the Wolf Pack will still have a ton of talent around Caroline next season. Five-star freshman center Jordan Brown recently committed to Nevada. The program also a number of talented transfers entering the mix, including Tre’Shawn Thomas, Nisre Zouzoua and Ehab Amin.

If the Martin twins return to school (and that is a big if) then Nevada could have a potentially elite offense next season. But even if the Martin twins go pro, Nevada should still be the favorite in the Mountain West and a threat to once again make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Dewan Huell returning to Miami for junior season

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Miami received some positive news on Saturday afternoon as the school announced the return of forward Dewan Huell for his junior season.

After testing the NBA draft waters without an agent, the 6-foot-11 Huell will be back for the Hurricanes. Starting all 32 games for the program last season, Huell averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor.

“After getting feedback from NBA teams and talking it over with my family and coaches, I would like to announce that I will be returning to Miami for my junior season,” Huell said in the release. “I’m really excited to get back to work with my brothers so we can accomplish more than ever during the 2018-19 season.”

A former McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, Huell’s return gives the Hurricanes stability in the front court for next season as he’ll play with other returning players like Sam Waardenburg and Ebuka Izundu. With Miami losing both Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown early to the 2018 NBA Draft, Huell could be expected to provide more offensive production as a junior.

Bruce Weber receives contract extension at Kansas State

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Kansas State and head coach Bruce Weber have agreed to a two-year contract extension, according to a release from the school.

After leading the Wildcats to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in March, Weber will be the head coach at Kansas State through the 2022-23 season, which gives him another five seasons to work with. Weber will be paid $2.5 million in 2018-19 and he’ll receive a $100,000 increase to his salary in each remaining contract year.

Weber had already signed a two-year extension in August 2017, but this move gives the veteran head coach more job security (and positive recruiting perception) for the next few seasons.

“We are very fortunate to have not only such an outstanding basketball coach but also a man in Coach Weber who conducts his program with integrity and class and is widely respected across the nation,” Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor said. “Certainly last season was one of the most memorable postseason runs in our program’s history, and we are excited for next season and the years ahead under Coach Weber’s leadership.”

With Kansas State returning most of its roster from last season, including the return of guard Barry Brown from the 2018 NBA Draft process, expectations are sky-high for Weber and the Wildcats this season. Currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the Preseason Top 25, Kansas State’s veteran club could give Kansas a serious run for a Big 12 regular season title this season.

Northwestern loses incoming freshman point guard

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Northwestern and incoming freshman point guard Jordan Lathon are parting ways. The 6-foot-4 Lathon was viewed as a potential candidate to replace Bryant McIntosh at lead guard for the Wildcats this season, but Northwestern has reportedly revoked his offer of admission and basketball scholarship.

It is unclear why Lathon was unable to be admitted into Northwestern, but the school’s VP for University Relations, Alan Cubbage, gave a statement to Inside NU’s Davis Rich and Caleb Friedman.

“Northwestern University has revoked its offers of admission and an athletic scholarship for Jordan Lathon, a recruit for the Northwestern men’s basketball team,” the statement said. “Out of respect for the privacy of the student, the University will have no further public comment.”

Lathon later acknowledged the situation in a tweet explaining to fans that he will no longer be attending Northwestern.

While it is unclear why Lathon and Northwestern are parting ways, other high-major programs are already very interested in bringing in Lathon for next season. Oklahoma State immediately jumped in with a scholarship offer. There is also speculation that Lathon, a native of Grandview, Missouri, could also hear from the in-state Tigers as well.

It’ll be interesting to see where Lathon lands, and how this also affects Northwestern’s point guard situation. The loss of a four-year starter like McIntosh will be tough to fill, especially since Lathon was committed to Northwestern since last June. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins seek out a veteran point guard graduate transfer to try and get some immediate help.