Four Takeaways from Gonzaga’s win over Duke in Maui title game

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So much for all that undefeated talk.

Maybe now we can put that on Gonzaga?

(They’re not going undefeated, either. So please don’t.)

Rui Hachimura let the world know who he is while Brandon Clarke showed off what makes him such a valuable piece for Gonzaga as the Bulldogs put on a clinic in the first half before hanging on to beat Duke with their defense down the stretch.

It really was a phenomenal basketball game. Here are the four things we can take away from No. 3 Gonzaga’s thrilling, 89-87 win over No. 1 Duke:

1. GONZAGA WON THIS GAME WITH THEIR DEFENSE

It sounds weird that I am saying this after Gonzaga gave up 87 points on 72 possessions, but it’s true.

The Bulldogs literally did every thing they possibly could to give this game away. Their offense totally collapsed down the stretch. They missed four free throws in the final 30 seconds, a handful of layups in the final two minutes and allowed Duke’s ball pressure to create turnovers and bad shots that led to layups at the other end of the floor.

And Duke still couldn’t find a way to win.

A large part of this was due to some of their decision making in the final minute (we’ll get to that, believe me), but the credit must be given where the credit it due: Playing the most difficult team in the country to match up with, the Zags did about as well as you can hope for. Brandon Clarke battled through foul trouble to go be the switchable rim-protector we all knew he could be. Corey Kispert and Zach Norvell Jr. did a terrific job taking Cam Reddish out of this game. Gonzaga, as a team, spent 35 minutes playing really good, really fundamental gapping man-to-man, forcing Duke to settle for jumpers or drive headlong into traffic.

(AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The Zags are not a great defensive team, not yet anyway. Rui Hachimura has a long way to go as an on-ball defender despite his incredible athleticism. Josh Perkins and Norvell are tough and smart positionally even if they aren’t great individual defenders.

But the key here, for me, is that the Zags got the stops they needed to get, despite the foul trouble and despite some of the questionable individual defense.

Gonzaga’s ball-screen offense is a pleasure to watch. It is the reason that they were up by as many as 16 points on the Blue Devils on Wednesday nigh, and it will be the reason they have a lead like that on a lot of different teams this season.

It sure is comforting for Few, however, to know that he has a team that can gut out critical defensive possessions. They did it five times in a row in the final 90 seconds tonight.

2. RUI HACHIMURA IS WORTH ALL THE HYPE

Man, did he make some big plays on Wednesday.

The blocks in the final minutes. The bucket in the paint with the game tied at 87. The assist to Clarke when Duke cut the lead to 83-81. He finished with 20 points, six boards, five assists and three blocks, but I feel like his impact on this game was so much bigger than what the box score says. He was the one that made the plays that Gonzaga needed the most.

For a kid that is almost too nice, for a player that Gonzaga has repeatedly said does not realize just how good he actually is and can be, it was a big deal that, in the biggest and most high-profile game that he will play this side of March, Hachimura stepped up and took over when his team needed him to.

He needs to work on that jumper and he needs to master the particulars of being a good one-on-one defender, but he showed the kind of (ahem) intestinal fortitude that the best have on Wednesday.

That’s a helluva coming out party.

3. MARQUES BOLDEN CANNOT BE ON THE FLOOR AGAINST TEAMS THAT RUN BALL-SCREEN OFFENSE

Less than 24 hours after reminding everyone that he was, at one point in time, a top 15 prospect, Marques Bolden proceeded to remind us why we all had forgotten that he was once considered a one-and-done difference maker.

Simply put: He cannot be on the floor when Duke is playing a team that is a good ball-screen team. We saw it against Army, and we saw it tonight, as Josh Perkins — who has his flaws but is a terrific operator in ball-screen actions — tore Duke’s defense to shreds in the first 23 minutes of the game. It’s not much of a coincidence, then, that Bolden did not play in the final 17 minutes of this one.

The way that Duke wants to defend ball-screens is fairly straight forward given their personnel: They want to switch everything 1-through-4, but when the five is involved in the action, they want to ice it or drop it, and the five’s role in both of those coverages is the same. His job is to zone up between the dribbler and the screener, making sure the dribbler cannot turn the corner and get a head of steam to the rim while giving the guard defender time to get over the screen and back to his man.

It should look something like this:

That’s Javin DeLaurier at the five, and that’s not often what happens when Bolden is on the floor.

Here is a terrific example from the first half. Bolden ends up too far out on the perimeter and stays with Josh Perkins for far too long, so that when Perkins goes to reverse the ball and Zion Williamson — the help-man, or “tagger” — runs to Brandon Clarke, Filip Petrusev is left unguarded. Perkins finds him with a slick no-look pass as Bolden stands in no man’s land, defending no one:

There is a time and a place for Bolden to be effective. When he’s asked to be a rim-protector and a rebounder that brings energy, he can do that well. We saw it against Auburn.

If he’s going to be asked to defend ball-screen after ball-screen after ball-screen, Duke is not going to be able to play him if they want to get stops.

4. DUKE IS GOING TO RIDE-OR-DIE WITH R.J. BARRETT AS THEIR GO-TO GUY

Four times in the final minute of this game, Duke had possession with a chance to run something to get a shot to tie or take the lead.

Every time, Duke ran an iso for R.J. Barrett, looking to capitalize on a mismatch and get their star player going downhill.

Gonzaga knew this as well, and they made sure to clog the lane with helpers and have their best athlete — Brandon Clarke, who finished with six blocks even though it felt like he had six blocks in the last minute of the game — meet him at the rim.

They are going to ride or die with their star, and on Wednesday, they died with him.

Part of that is simple strategy: Duke’s halfcourt offense is based on finding mismatches and creating isolation situations. It’s not exactly a bad idea, either. How many people are staying in front of Barrett, or Zion, or Tre Jones? But part of it is also betting on your player to make the right play, and this is where the breakdown happened.

Simply put, Barrett did not make the right read. He did not give the ball up when he drew the defense. This is one example. I could have done this for all four of those final possessions:

Barrett wanted, and has probably earned, the chance to be the hero for Duke. With that comes the responsibility to not play hero-ball, and the right to be criticized when a selfish play is made.

If Barrett wants to be a point guard in the NBA, he has to be able to see that pass and make that pass. A DeLaurier dunk forces overtime. Instead, Duke is heading home.

(BONUS TAKEAWAY!) 5. THESE ARE THE NATION’S TWO BEST TEAMS

With all due respect to Virginia, and North Carolina, and Kansas, and whoever else thinks they have a shot at the title, these are the two teams that you are going to have to beat to do it.

Gonzaga should be the No. 1 team in the country on Monday morning. Frankly, I would probably still bet on Duke to win the title today, even with the eventual return of Killian Tillie.

Either way, I would love to see a rematch between these two teams in Minneapolis in April.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia 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

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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.