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No. 8 Kentucky closes out No. 22 Mississippi State 76-55

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky’s defense wasn’t perfect against Mississippi State, just quick enough to disrupt the No. 22 Bulldogs’ rhythm and cause its worst offensive performance this season.

The No. 8 Wildcats now aim to keep it going after clearing the second of three big challenges.

PJ Washington scored 21 points, including a big 3-pointer down the stretch, Tyler Herro added 18 and Kentucky pulled away from Mississippi State 76-55 on Tuesday night for its fifth consecutive victory.

The Wildcats (15-3, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) also emerged with a lot to like in beating their second of three ranked opponents before hosting No. 9 Kansas on Saturday.

They led for all but the early minutes, but had to survive some rough stretches that allowed the Bulldogs (14-4, 2-3) to get within 41-39 with 13:39 remaining. Kentucky answered with scoring 18 of the next 25 points over the next 6:50, helped by Herro’s three free throws and consecutive 3s by Immanuel Quickley and Washington, for a double-digit advantage it maintained.

Defense helped as Kentucky held the Bulldogs (14-4, 2-3) to season lows in points and shooting (31 percent) behind timely plays that swung the game. The biggest was EJ Montgomery’s out-of-nowhere swat of Quinndary Weatherspoon’s layup attempt, leading to Nick Richard’s dunk that snuffed MSU’s last chance to close the gap. His block was among eight by the Wildcats.

“It was pretty important,” Herro said of the play. “EJ made a big block that kind of helped us and sparked us and we kind of took off from there.”

Kentucky on the other hand shot 44 percent but 8 of 16 from long range.

Washington was 9 of 15 from the field with three 3s for his first 20-point game in over a month. He also grabbed six rebounds and matched a season high with four blocks.

“I felt like I was just hitting shots tonight,” Washington said. “They was just falling. I could’ve done a lot more on the defensive end and rebound more. There’s always room for improvement.”

Herro made all three from long range and all five free throws to follow his 20-point performance at Auburn. Reid Travis grabbed 12 rebounds and Ashton Hagans a career-high nine assists as the Wildcats won the glass 43-36 and won the second of three consecutive Top-25 matchups.

Kentucky also succeeded in holding MSU’s potent perimeter game to just 3 of 20 from behind the arc after entering the contest second in the SEC at 38 percent.

Quinndary Weatherspoon had 19 points and Tyson Carter 11 for the Bulldogs, who made just 19 of 61 from the field (31 percent) in their first game against a ranked foe this season.

“We were rushed offensively tonight,” Bulldogs coach Ben Howland said. “I think they did a good job of speeding us up and getting us playing faster and not really controlled enough offensively.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wildcats should remain in the Top 10 after clearing the first of two ranked opponents this week. The Bulldogs will need to beat Auburn on Saturday to remain ranked.

BIG PICTURE

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs brought in balanced offense but struggled despite a bunch of opportunities, especially from long range. Forward and Kentucky native Aric Holman missed his only two attempts in 20 minutes. MSU also committed 15 turnovers leading to 17 Kentucky points.

“Sometimes you have those nights you’re struggling from 3-point range,” freshman guard Robert Woodard said. “We were struggling all over tonight. We just have to get back in the gym and make things work.”

Kentucky: The Wildcats offset strong stretches with sloppy moments that allowed MSU to get close. But they slowly regrouped to close with a flourish and remain a game within the unbeaten leaders in the SEC.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State hosts No. 16 Auburn in SEC play on Saturday.

Kentucky hosts No. 9 Kansas on Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

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.