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Saturday’s Things To Know: R.J. Barrett’s big day, LSU’s win, Texas Tech stays hot

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: R.J. Barrett, Duke

Barrett, on Saturday, reminded everyone on the planet that Duke is the No. 1 team in the country because they have more than just Zion Williamson on the roster.

The 6-foot-6 freshman returned to his native Canada* to put up 30 points and seven assists on 14-for-20 shooting while hitting 2-of-5 threes in a 75-65 win at Syracuse. He opened up the game by carrying Duke by running the high-post in their zone offense and closed the game as the guy creating looks for his teammates as the Dukies put up 48 second half points against one of the nation’s better defensive teams.

With the win, Duke keeps pace with No. 3 Virginia and No. 8 North Carolina in the ACC regular season title race.

This win mattered for the Blue Devils for more reasons that just the simple fact that Barrett went nuts. For starters, the Blue Devils may have found the guy that is going to be their floor-spacer moving forward. With Jack White officially benched now that he has gone a full six weeks without making a three, Alex O’Connell stepped into the starting lineup on Saturday and performed. He scored 17 of his career-high 20 points and hit four of his five threes during that second half run. He was the zone-buster that helped the Blue Devils break down Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3.

But he also wouldn’t have mattered is Barrett hadn’t dragged Duke through the first half.

This was Barrett’s time to shine, and he sure did that.

*(ZINGGGG!!!)

TEAM OF THE DAY: LSU Tigers

It is hard to overstate just how impressive it is that No. 13 LSU was able to find a way to beat No. 5 Tennessee in overtime on Saturday, 82-80.

Let’s start with this: The Tigers were playing without Tremont Waters, their star point guard, who was sick. Then there’s this: Naz Reid, the second-most talented player on this roster, finished with just one point on 0-for-9 shooting from the floor. They trailed by nine points with six minutes left in the game. Tennessee had the ball with a chance to win at the end of regulation and the end of overtime.

But LSU got it in behind 29 points, five boards and five assists from Javonte Smart and 23 points from Skylar Mays.

And with that win and Kentucky turning Auburn into that piece of chicken you put on the grill on forgot about, the Tigers are now sitting tied for first in the SEC title race.

Not a bad day down in Baton Rouge.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Bryce Aiken, Harvard

Bryce Aiken scored 28 points, including a three at the buzzer, as Harvard went into New Haven and knocked off first place year, 88-86, in a clash of Ivy League heavyweights. Yale now holds just a one-game led on Harvard and Princeton in league standings.

SATURDAY’S WINNERS

NASSIR LITTLE: No. 8 North Carolina landed a massive win on Saturday, avoiding an obvious letdown spot after knocking off Duke on Wednesday and smacking around No. 16 Florida State, 77-59. After playing just 24 minutes in the last three games combined, Little went for 18 points and eight boards in the win over the Seminoles. He also did this:

KENTUCKY: The Wildcats put together arguably their most impressive performance of the season, as they absolutely obliterated Auburn, winning 80-53 in a game where the Wildcats never looked like they were in danger of getting upset. P.J. Washington was once again the star for Kentucky, and now the question needs to be asked: Is this team better without Reid Travis on the floor?

PURDUE: The Boilermakers managed to hold off Nebraska on Saturday afternoon, and what that means is that Purdue will end up in a tie for first place in the Big Ten with just one other team come Monday morning. As it stands, there are three teams tied for first place in the Big Ten standings: Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State. Michigan and Michigan State play twice before the season comes to an end — including on Sunday — and that puts the Boilermakers in a great spot to win the outright regular season Big Ten title if they can find a way to win out this season.

KANSAS STATE: Not only did Kansas State put up 85 points in a blowout win over Oklahoma State on Saturday, they did so while Kansas went into Lubbock and got absolutely drubbed by Texas Tech and Iowa State found a way to lose at TCU. Do the math, and the Wildcats will head into Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night in sole possession of first place in the league with a two game lead on the Jayhawks. That will be a massive, massive game.

WOFFORD: The Terriers have just about sewn up an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament thanks to a conference that has provided them with three Q1 road wins. Saturday was the latest example, as Wofford went into Furman and beat the Palladins. They’ve run roughshod over a conference that, according to the NET, is better at the top than the Pac-12. That’s impressive.

ROSS BJORK AND KERMIT DAVIS: The players on the Ole Miss basketball team that took a knee during the anthem as a form of counter-protesting the confederacy rally that was happening in Oxford on Saturday were the brave ones. But credit also has to be given to Bjork, the Old Miss athletic director, and Davis, the head coach, for unequivocally backing the players. It’s not going to be easy for those players to deal with what’s coming at a school whose nickname is the Rebels, but knowing their coach and their coach’s boss have their back will certainly help mitigate that.

MIKE DAUM: South Dakota State’s Daum became the tenth player in college basketball history — and the second player this season — to score his 3,000th career point. Daum scored 25 points in a win over South Dakota, and is now just 68 points behind Chris Clemons on the career scoring list. Clemons scored 41 on Saturday and is now sixth on the career scoring list, just 76 points behind Doug McDermott.

SATURDAY’S LOSERS

SECOND HALF LOUISVILLE: The Cardinals just cannot hold onto a lead. They blew a 10 point second half lead in an overtime loss at Florida State two weeks ago. Last Tuesday, they blew a 23 point second half lead at home against Duke. Last Saturday, they blew an eight point lead against Clemson and needed a miracle block from Jordan Nwora at the end of the game to save them. And today, the Cardinals hit 10 first half threes and led No. 3 Virginia 37-27 going into the break before scoring just 15 second half points in a 64-52 loss.

PEOPLE PLAYING TEXAS TECH: I’m not sure there is a hotter team in the country right now than Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are already the best defensive team in college basketball, and on Saturday, in a 91-62 win over Kansas, they shot 16-for-26 from three. This came on the heels of back-to-back games where they hit 12 three-pointers. They’ve reached double-figures for threes in each of the last four games, and during that stretch, they are shooting 50-for-102 from three. In their recent five-game winning streak, they’re shooting 46 percent from three.

Look out.

Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim comment on death of Kobe Bryant and daughter, Gianna

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Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was the head coach of the USA Men’s National team for nearly a decade, and in that time, he won two gold medals with Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, and his daughter Gianna, died on Sunday morning after a helicopter that they were flying in crashed in Calabasas, Cali.

“We have tragically lost one of the greatest sports figures of our time with the passing of Kobe Bryant,” Coach K said. “He was an incredibly gifted person who was universally respected. He was in constant pursuit of doing something special and there will never be a greater warrior in our sport.

“I had the amazing honor of coaching Kobe in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, and I will always remember how much he cherished representing his country in a first-class manner playing the game he so loved. The game of basketball is better today because of Kobe, and he deserves eternal appreciation for that. This is a devastating loss, made even more tragic by the passing of his daughter, Gianna, and all others on board. The entire Krzyzewski family is saddened as we genuinely loved and admired Kobe. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Vanessa, their daughters Natalia, Bianka, and Capri, and the families of those involved.”

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim was an assistant on the 2008 Gold Medal winning team, dubbed the Reedem Team. That squad restored the image of USA Basketball after winning bronze medals in the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Championships.

“I first saw him in person when he came to the qualifier in ’07 before the Olympic year,” Boeheim told Syracuse.com. “He came in the first day and worked twice as hard as everybody else. He taught all the young players, LeBron and Carmelo and all those guys: ‘This is what you gotta do. You gotta go after this.’

“We lost in the World Championship the year before. And he just showed everybody — this is what you do. And we overpowered everybody in that tournament, then we went to the Olympics and overpowered everybody. When it was a close game against Spain in the finals, he took the ball, made the play to win the game.

“That’s who he was. He set a high standard. He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. Jordan, I didn’t coach, but Jordan was the same. Of all the guys that I’ve ever coached and ever seen, he worked harder than everybody.”

Tom Izzo broke the news of Kobe Bryant’s death to Cassius Winston on live TV

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While the shock and immediacy of Kobe Bryant’s death spread through my network of friends and social media follows like wildfire on Sunday afternoon, one thing I kept thinking about was how many people involved with the game of basketball were actually playing while this was happening.

Take Michigan State and Minnesota, for example. The news of Bryant’s death broke around 2:30 p.m. ET. This game tipped off at 3 p.m. ET. Cassius Winston, Michigan State’s resident all-american, found out about Kobe’s death live on TV after the game came to an end:

 

Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu breaks down during moment of silence honoring Kobe Bryant

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Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu was moved to tears during a pregame moment of silence in honor of Kobe Bryant prior to a rivalry game against Oregon State on Sunday:

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna died Sunday morning in a place crash that also resulted in the death of one of Gianna’s teammates and a parent.

Ionescu is the best women’s player in the country, recently surpassing Gary Payton for the Pac-12 career assist record, and she has developed a friendship with Kobe Bryant over the years. Gianna, a budding basketball star in her own right, was a huge fan of Sabrina Ionescu’s game, and Kobe Bryant had brought her and her teammates to a number of Oregon games in recent years.

These are the details of the crash, according to our Kurt Helin:

The crash took place in Calabasas, an area about 30 miles northeast of the Staples Center, where Kobe starred as a player for more than a decade. It is not far from the Mamba Academy athletic training center where Kobe was both an owner and an active participant. It was a foggy day in Southern California, which could have contributed to the crash.

The crash killed five people, of which Kobe was one.

Kobe was 41. He and his wife Vanessa have four daughters. Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was aboard the helicopter with Kobe (they were on their way to one of her basketball games, along with a fellow teammate of Gianna’s and her parent).

 

Saturday’s Things To Know: Kentucky survives, Ayo Dosunmu’s on a tear, Roy and Huggs reach milestones

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It was actually a relatively slow day for a Saturday in late-January in college hoops, but there is still plenty to discuss. Here are the ten things that you need to know:

1. No. 15 KENTUCKY KNOCKED OFF No. 18 TEXAS TECH

Nick Richards went for 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks and Immanuel Quickley chipped in with 21 points of his own as Kentucky went into Lubbock and knocked off the Red Raiders in overtime. A full breakdown of that game can be found here.

2. TEXAS TECH IS IN REAL BUBBLE TROUBLE

I’m not sure people realize just how little their is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

3. AYO DOSUNMU CONTINUED HIS TEAR

In case you haven’t noticed, No. 21 Illinois is the hottest team in the Big Ten, sitting all alone in first-place in the conference standings and Ayo Dosunmu — who scored 27 points and hit the game-winner at Michigan today — has been the best player in the Big Ten this month. More on the Illini and their star here.

4. ROY WILLIAMS PASSED DEAN SMITH ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

It’s ironic when you think about it: North Carolina was in the midst of their first five-game losing streak since 2003, and it just so happened to come after Williams had tied Smith on the all-time wins list. He finally broke the streak on Saturday, blowing out Miami, 94-71, to win his 880th game as a head coach. It is, quite literally, the first win for the Tar Heels in 2020.

5. BOB HUGGINS PASSED ADOLPH RUPP ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

No. 14 West Virginia blew out Missouri in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to give Huggy Bear is 876th career win, good for seventh on the all-time list, one better than Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky head coach.

6. No. 1 BAYLOR UPSET UNRANKED FLORIDA

This might sound ridiculous, but if you subscribe to the theory that any underdog that wins a game is an upset happening, then No. 1 Baylor going into the O-Dome and knocking off Florida is, technically, an upset. The Gators entered the game as 2.5 point favorites, jumped out to a big league and then proceeded to watch as the nation’s best team proved that they are, in fact, the nation’s best team.

We have spent the majority of this season explaining away the reasons why there isn’t an elite team in college basketball, but I’m beginning to think that there’s a chance Baylor could be that team. They’re never going to be the darlings of the metrics and they don’t have much NBA talent, but they are so balanced, so effective in crunch time and elite on the defensive end of the floor.

7. MEMPHIS BLEW AN 11-POINT LEAD IN THE FINAL SIX MINUTES

This one was hard to do.

The Tigers were up 70-59 with less than six minutes remaining in the game and then never scored again. They would give up a 15-0 run in that stretch and go on to lose, 74-70, at home to an SMU team that is not very good. Penny Hardaway’s team has found themselves in a bad, bad spot this season.

8. ARIZONA BLEW A 22-POINT LEAD

The No. 22 Wildcats led Arizona State in Tempe by 22 points in the first half. With 1:40 left before the break, they were ahead 43-24. At halftime, they were up 43-30. With 16:30 left on the clock, the Sun Devils had cut that lead to 43-40, and after Alonzo Verge scored with 10 seconds remaining, the Sun Devils had a 66-65 lead and went on to win by that score.

The importance of this win for Bobby Hurley’s club cannot be overstated.

9. SAN FRANCISCO WORKED THEIR FOULING MAGIC AGAIN

Last weekend, San Francisco fouled a ball-handler at the end of the first half in order to get the ball back. It was a sneaky bit of math that gave the Dons an extra two points on their lead heading into the break.

On Saturday against BYU, Todd Golden drew up something similar. With 22 seconds left in the game and the Dons clinging to a 79-77 lead, he had his team intentionally foul Yoeli Childs, BYU’s star center who just so happens to be a 60 percent free throw shooter and coming off of a broken finger. The reasoning was simple: Since BYU was in the one-and-one, Childs shooting free throws meant that A) BYU’s xPPP for that possessions was 0.96, lower than the average possession for a team that had scored 77 points in 39 minutes and shot 15-for-27 from three on the night. If he made both, USF had a chance to win on the final possession. If he missed one, BYU’s best rebounder was shooting the free throws. Turns out, he missed the first, and USF hung on to win, 83-82.

10. SAMUELL WILLIAMSON MAY HAVE HAD HIS BREAKOUT GAME

Last weekend, it was freshman David Johnson that had his breakout game for No. 6 Louisville. He went for 19 points and seven boards as the Cardinals went into Cameron and beat Duke. This weekend, it was fellow freshman Williamson, who scored 14 points for the Cards as they blew out Clemson in the Yum! Center. Is this the start of his star turn?

No. 1 Baylor smothers Florida 72-61, 16th straight win

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — MaCio Teague and Devonte Bandoo scored 16 points apiece and No. 1 Baylor extended its winning steak to 16 with a 72-61 victory over Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday night.

The Bears improved to 6-1 in the annual inter-conference series – the best record of any team in either conference – and themselves another week atop The Associated Press poll.

Baylor also gave the Big 12 an even split (5-5) in the daylong series.

The Bears (17-1) overcame an eight-point deficit early and led by 19 points in the second half before Florida mounted a minor rally. The Gators (12-7) had a chance to make it a single-digit game with a little more than 7 minutes to play, but they missed the front end of three consecutive one-and-ones. Kerry Blackshear Jr. misfired twice on back-to-back possessions and then Noah Locke did the same seconds later.

What could have been an eight-point game was still a comfortable lead for the Bears.

Florida eventually managed to whittle Baylor’s lead to 10 on Andrew Nembhard’s driving layup with 2:40 remaining. But the Bears answered on the other end thanks to their 13th offensive rebound, which led to two free throws for Bandoo.

Davion Mitchell finished with 11 points and six assists for Baylor, which was a slight underdog entering the game. Jared Butler chipped in 10 points.

Baylor’s length, athleticism and defensive prowess posed problems all night for Florida, which shot 44% from the field and 23.5% from 3-point range.

The Gators fell to 2-17 against the No. 1 team, including 10 consecutive losses.

Keyontae Johnson led Florida with 20 points. Nembhard added 16 points and eight assists, but he missed more shots (8) than he made (6), including all four 3-pointers. The Gators missed 13 of 17 from behind the arc.

Baylor took control of the game with a 13-2 run to close the first half, turning a tie game into a double-digit lead. The Bears hit six 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes – twice as many as Florida – and had seven offensive rebounds.

They got help from an unlikely source. Bandoo, who averages 7.5 points off the benched, scored 11 in the opening half on 4 of 6 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears matched their best 18-game start in school history. They also started 17-1 in 2011-12 and 2016-17. They landed No. 3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament after those regular seasons and were eliminated both times by SEC teams (Kentucky in ’12, South Carolina in `17).

Florida: The Gators appeared to be taking strides while beating then-No. 4 Auburn last Saturday and nearly stunning LSU on the road earlier this week. But the team’s offensive woes returned against Baylor – no surprise given the Bears are one of the best defenses in the nation.

STILL HOBBLING

Florida forward Dontay Bassett missed his second consecutive game with a calf injury. Bassett averages 1.3 points and 2.1 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Baylor: Returns to Big 12 action and plays at Iowa State on Wednesday night. The Bears have won three of the last four in the series, but lost to the Cyclones in the conference tournament last March.

Florida: Returns to SEC play and hosts Mississippi State on Tuesday night. The Gators lost to the Bulldogs last year to end an eight-game winning streak in the series.