Saturday’s Things To Know: The Big 12 rolls, Kentucky’s back, Justin Robinson breaks out

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PLAYERS OF THE DAY: Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech

Robinson had the game of his life on Saturday afternoon.

The senior point guard, who has spent much of this season overshadowed by the emergence of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, scored 24 of his 35 points in the first half, hit nine of his 13 threes and handed out eight assists as No. 10 Virginia Tech bounced back from a couple of embarrassing losses at Virginia and at North Carolina to mollywhop Syracuse in Blacksburg.

The Hokies jumped out to an early double-digit lead, pushed the lead to 19 points by halftime and ended up cruising through the second half as the Syracuse zone had no answer for their ability to pass the ball and shoot over the top of the Orange defenders.

This was exactly the kind of win that Buzz Williams’ team needed to get their confidence back and headed in the right direction.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Kentucky Wildcats

It doesn’t get much better than knocking off a top ten team and getting the nation back on your bandwagon. We wrote about about No. 8 Kentucky beating No. 9 Kansas right here.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Braxton Beverly, N.C. State

The Wolfpack trailed 67-61 with 20 seconds left. After four missed free throws from Marcquise Reed, Braxton Beverly hit this shot to give N.C. State the win:

EXTRA ONIONS: The Hausers

And we all thought that Markus Howard was the bucket-getter for Marquette.

Well, he still is. He had 31 points today. But just as important as those 31 points were the 41 points and 14 boards that Sam and Joey Hauser combined for as No. 12 Marquette erased an 11-point deficit late in the second half on Saturday. There wasn’t a single shot that stood out, but that duo made big shot after big shot, and then hit clutch free throws down the stretch to ice the win.

With those two playing as well as they have been playing, Marquette is looking more and more like a serious Final Four threat.

SATURDAY WAS A GOOD DAY FOR …

THE BIG 12: Thanks to an impressive feat of scheduling, the Big 12 was able to cruise past the SEC in the Big 12/SEC Challenge thanks in large part to the fact that three of the top five teams in the SEC — No. 16 Auburn, No. 22 Mississippi State and No. 25 LSU — were not playing in the event. Kansas-Kentucky was a thriller, and Iowa State-Ole Miss had some intrigue even if it didn’t live up to it, but beyond that, the slate as a whole was something of a snooze.

But it worked out for the Big 12. They won the event 6-4.

THE BIG THREE: It’s not exactly surprising given the competition that they were playing, but No. 1 Tennessee, No. 2 Virginia and No. 3 Duke all cruised to blowout wins. Tennessee was challenged early by West Virginia, Duke was challenged a little longer by Georgia Tech, but overall there wasn’t much of a sweat.

QUINNDARY WEATHERSPOON: Weatherspoon finished with 27 points, scoring 20 in the second half as No. 22 Mississippi State landed a much-needed win over No. 16 Auburn, 92-84.

LINDELL WIGGINTON: It has been awhile since we’ve seen Wigginton play like the guy that was arguably the best returning guard in the Big 12 this season, but he did on Saturday. Wigginton scored 18 points in 21 minutes off the bench, shooting 7-for-10 from three and making three threes to help Iowa State land a win at Ole Miss. Getting Wigginton and Cameron Lard playing better is the key to the Cyclones reaching their season.

SATURDAY WAS A BAD DAY FOR …

KANSAS STATE: The Wildcats had won five straight games, turning their season around and setting themselves on a course as one of college basketball’s biggest sleepers, and then the SEC/Big 12 Challenge comes along and Kansas State goes and loses to Texas A&M, who entered this game with a 7-10 record having lost six of their last seven. That’s not ideal.

MISSOURI: The Tigers led No. 25 LSU by 14 points with 2:08 left, and not only did they managed to find a way to get to overtime, but they lost in overtime and failed to cover 5.5 points. This was a bad beat for Missouri and the people that bet on them.

TRAVIS STEELE: It’s bad enough that Xavier blew an 11 point second half lead and lost at home to No. 12 Marquette, but part of the reason that the Musketeers lost is that Steele, with 3:34 left in the game, was hit with a technical foul right after Marquette had regained the lead. He’s had better days.

ISAAC COPELAND: Not only did Nebraska lose at home to Ohio State, the third straight loss for the Huskers as they fight for a spot in the NCAA tournament, but they suffered a much more significant loss: Isaac Copeland is done for the year after tearing his ACL, and he tore it going up for a meaningless dunk after he was called for a travel. Just brutal.

JORDAN GOODWIN: The Billikens might have lost their chance to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament on Saturday with a 54-53 loss to Davidson, and that loss was due to Jordan Goodwin missing a pair of free throws with just 0.4 seconds left on the clock. That’s a tough one to swallow.

FINAL THOUGHT

Overall, I know the Big Ten is a good basketball conference.

There are two very real national title contenders at the top of the league in Michigan and Michigan State, and they legit.

But beyond that, what are we talking about here?

Because the further we get into the season, the more that I am starting to believe that there is a giant mass of mediocrity in the league once you get past the top two teams.

We all thought Maryland was the team that was going to emerge as the contender to the Michigan schools, but after getting worked by the Wolverines, the Terps turned around and lost to Illinois on Saturday. That’s not good. Neither is the emergence of Wisconsin as potentially the third-best team in the conference after they had a string of losing four out of five, including a home game to Minnesota and a pair of games where they couldn’t crack 15 first half points. Purdue has looked great in metrics like KenPom and NET, but that’s largely due to the number of close losses they have against the likes of Florida State, Virginia Tech and Texas. I don’t trust Iowa or Minnesota. Ohio State just snapped a five-game losing streak against Nebraska, who is on a three-game losing streak. Indiana has lost six in a row.

I fully expect at least nine teams from the Big Ten to get to the NCAA tournament because the Pac-12 is awful, the Mountain West only has one potential at-large team and the Atlantic 10 has none. The bids have to come from somewhere.

But that doesn’t mean I think that those teams are going to be great once they get there.

Alabama coach Nate Oats gets new 6-year, $30 million deal

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nate Oats has agreed to a new six-year, $30 million contract amid the program’s best regular season in decades.

Oats will average $5 million plus incentives over the deal running through the 2028-29 season under a deal approved by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees Compensation Committee.

It makes him the fourth-highest paid basketball coach in the Southeastern Conference and among the Top 10 nationally, athletic director Greg Byrne said.

Oats, who is in his fourth season, will make $4.5 million for the first year with $200,000 annual raises. The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (19-3, 9-0 SEC) has the team’s highest ranking this deep into a season since 1976-77.

“I am honored and humbled to receive a contract extension from the University of Alabama,” Oats said in a statement. “As I have said many times, my family and I love this community, the city of Tuscaloosa and the university.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to build during our time at UA which is a direct reflection of the student-athletes, coaches and staff who have all played a big part in our success. I am excited for what’s happening in the future of our program and the direction we are heading.”

Alabama has gone 80-39 under Oats, winning the 2021 SEC regular season and tournament championships.

“Coach Oats has done an outstanding job leading our men’s basketball program, and we want him to continue doing so for many years to come,” Byrne said in a statement. “He and his staff have lifted the program back to national prominence and built a product that is exciting to be a part of for our team and for our fans.

“We were confident Nate was going to be an outstanding coach for us when we hired him, and he is not only that, but also a great leader of our young men.”

The new contract comes nearly three weeks after Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder following a fatal shooting near campus. Miles, a reserve forward, was removed from the team and suspended from the university following his arrest.

Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson says men’s ball used vs. FSU

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Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team played with a men’s basketball for the first half of a loss to Florida Stated.

The 16th-ranked Blue Devils lost to the Seminoles 70-57 in Tallahassee, Florida – the team’s second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season.

After her team beat Pittsburgh 53-44 , Lawson ended her news conference by speaking animatedly.

“This would never happen in a men’s game. This would never happen. It’s embarrassing for our sport,” she said.

The circumference of a women’s ball is about an inch smaller than a men’s ball and it is typically 2 ounces lighter. While it may not seem like a lot, that’s a big difference.

Lawson said throughout the first half, Duke players were “complaining about the ball.” The Blue Devils were 7 for 34 from the field in the opening 20 minutes of that game. They were 12 for 38 in the second half. Florida State made 10 of its 30 shots in the first two quarters and 14 of 31 in the second half.

“To have a game that, at the end of the season, could be the difference between a seed, between a title, my players don’t deserve that and neither do their players,” Lawson said. “It’s a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I’m talking about that failed the sport and our players and both teams.”

Lawson said assistant coach Winston Gandy went to the scorer’s table at the half to check on the ball when he realized what the problem was. She said the game officials changed the ball to start the second half.

“We have concluded through our investigation that it was a men’s ball,” Lawson said. “The conference and Florida State is saying that it wasn’t.”

The ACC said it did a comprehensive review talking with game officials, administrators, the table crew and both schools.

“Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim,” the conference said in a statement. “Per NCAA playing rules, there is no appeal or protest process.”

The ACC has instituted a procedural change that the game ball will be brought to the pregame meeting with the captains for approval.

“It’s very frustrating that (the game) … was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened in women’s basketball. In 2017, the College of Charleston played home games and practiced with men’s balls for most of its season until the error was was discovered.

“Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. They beat us playing with a men’s ball in the first half and a women’s ball in the second half. But I can’t say if we’d have played with a women’s ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won. But they can’t say that either,” Lawson said.

No. 1 South Carolina wins 28th straight 87-69 over ‘Cats

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley’s pleased South Carolina had made its once-lopsided series with UConn more competitive the past few years.

She hopes her top-ranked team can accomplish another milestone when the teams meet for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

“It still stands true that we haven’t won up there,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as South Carolina prepared for the top-five showdown with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) improved to 22-0 and won their 28th straight, a run that included a 64-49 victory over the Huskies in Minneapolis last April to win the national championship.

Staley had lost her first seven games as South Carolina coach against UConn. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four matchups since.

“This particular class committed to each other,” Staley said. “When you have that type of commitment and you just want to win, you find yourself winning some games that you haven’t won before.”

Against Kentucky, reigning AP player of the year Boston extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.

Still, its dominant inside game – South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint – was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.

The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.

That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.

The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.

Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.

Beal thought the team held together well to blunt Kentucky’s runs and regain control. “I think it’s our mental aspect of the game and us believing in each other,” she said.

Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.

Wildcats coach Kyra Elzy said South Carolina is difficult to match up with because of its deep bench. “They have depth after depth after depth,” she said. “They keep coming.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers – and six freshmen – who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.

South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw – or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.

UCONN KARMA

South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.

South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.

Miles, Citron lead No. 9 Irish past Boston College 72-59

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BOSTON — Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron had already scored 10 straight points to put away Boston College when they turned their attention to other things.

“I told Sonia I needed two more assists for the double-double. And she was like, `All right, I’ve got you,”‘ Miles said after helping No. 9 Notre Dame beat BC 72-59 on Thursday night.

“That’s just kind of our communication on the court,” said Miles, who found Citron for baskets on the next two Irish possessions to complete a 14-0 run – with all 14 points from Miles and Citron. “We just really play off each other really well.

Miles scored 22 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Citron scored 23 for the Irish (18-2, 9-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Maria Gakdeng scored 16 points, T’Yana Todd had 13 and Andrea Daly scored 10 with eight rebounds for BC (14-11, 4-8). The Irish beat BC at home 85-48 on New Year’s Day but hadn’t won in Chestnut Hill since 2019.

“This is such a tough place to play,” said Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey, whose team faces No. 16 Duke next. “We’ll celebrate it until about 12:30, and then we’ve got film. Tomorrow we start focusing on Duke.”

BC came within five points, 55-50, before the Irish ran off 14 points in a row – nine by Citron, and five by Miles. That put an end to what had been a back-and-forth game in which the Irish opened big leads and then frittered them away.

“I always feel like we’re close,” BC coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “They’re young; I think consistency comes with experience.

“I think it’s a big improvement from the first time we played Notre Dame,” she said. “I still want to see more, and I want to see us grow up as fast as humanly possible because I think we do have a dangerous team when we going well.”

Notre Dame led by 11 in the first quarter and held a 38-30 lead with two minutes gone in the third. BC scored 13 of the next 18 points, capitalizing on back-to-back Irish turnovers to tie it 43-all with three minutes left in the quarter.

But Natalija Marshall put back the rebound of her own miss, Miles drove to the basket, Maddy Westbeld added a pair of baskets and then Miles stole the ball and found Citron on the fast break to make it 53-43.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame bounced back from their first league loss of the season, a 69-65 defeat at North Carolina State on Sunday. Now they face No. 16 Duke.

The Eagles, who beat Pittsburgh on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, were looking for their second victory over a Top 25 team this season, having also beaten then-No. 10 N.C. State on Jan. 5.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Hosts No. 16 Duke on Sunday.

Boston College: Visits Syracuse on Sunday.

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

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CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.