Kentucky NCAA hopes end after being bounced from SEC tourney

Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC
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Kentucky’s season ended with a missed last-second shot in the SEC Tournament.

But things began spiraling downward for the Wildcats long before Thursday’s disappointing 74-73 setback against Mississippi State that sealed their fate: No NCAA Tournament this year.

When the Bulldogs’ Iverson Molinar made two free throws with seven seconds left, it assured the Wildcats (9-16) will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 and just the second in John Calipari’s 12-year tenure in Lexington.

With Duke withdrawing from the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament due to a positive COVID test, it will be the first time since 1976 that both the Blue Devils and Kentucky will not be in the NCAAs.

Digesting the reality and enduring a losing season at college basketball’s winningest program will make for a long offseason for the Wildcats.

“I’ve never lost this many games in my life in basketball consecutively like this,” graduate guard Davion Mintz said. “I know other guys on this roster haven’t, either. But now you know how it feels. You don’t want to climb back into that hole. You don’t want that pain to come back.”

Kentucky dug that deep hole in the season’s first month, and it became harder to climb out of as the losses piled up.

The Wildcats were able to string together a couple of three-game winning streaks, but still finished the season seven games under .500 in the pandemic-shortened season. Those spurts merely halted slides of six and four games, respectively, which meant the blue-blood program needed to mount its longest winning steak of the season and win the SEC Tournament to extend the season.

“We were a couple of wins away from being a team, even with a bad record, we were right there,” Calipari said of Kentucky’s NCAA prospects. “But at the end of the day, you’ve gotta win games and you’ve gotta be tough and you’ve got to play winning basketball. … We were never able to get fully engaged in that.”

The last time Kentucky was out of the Big Dance was in 2013 after going 21-12 – then was promptly bounced from the NIT by Robert Morris in the first round. Don’t look for the Wildcats in any postseason tourney this year. It’s the program’s first losing campaign since going 13-19 in 1988-89, one that approached historic proportions as Kentucky’s worst since the 1926-27 squad began 1-8 on the way to a 3-13 ending.

An opening-game rout of neighboring Morehead State – which went on to win the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament for an automatic NCAA bid – was followed by a six-game losing streak that included a loss to rival Louisville. The Wildcats rebounded to win their first three SEC games, only to seesaw between a four-game skid and three-game winning streak.

Developing chemistry took time for a team that returned just sophomore forward Keion Brooks Jr. and welcomed 10 new faces. Like many teams, the Wildcats had little practice or free time together because of pandemic restrictions.

Injuries that sidelined Brooks the first nine games and Terrence Clarke for more than two months until Thursday didn’t help either, leaving the Wildcats vulnerable in the post.

One of the main issues for the Wildcats was putting up points, as Kentucky ranked 200th in Division I in scoring. The offense began showing some promise in mid-February, though not consistent enough to get the wins needed to get close to .500 and merit postseason consideration.

The inconsistent play that led to many ebbs and flows also raised questions about the talent level of the consensus No. 1 ranked recruiting class, along with the Hall of Famer’s one-and-done model. His coaching methods and rotations also came under fire.

It’s unclear which Wildcats freshmen will enter the NBA draft.

The most likely candidate is freshman forward Isaiah Jackson, who blossomed into a formidable rim protector before recently revealing his offensive skills. He’s projected as a lottery pick despite fouling out with just seven points and three rebounds in 19 minutes against MSU.

Guard Brandon Boston Jr. battled offensive consistency all season but is rated as a first-round selection on several draft sites.

Mintz and Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr – are likely gone as seniors, though both could return if the NCAA grants an extra season of eligibility because of the pandemic that created pauses for many programs.

Whatever happens, Kentucky has work to do to bounce back from this low point in program history.

“I’m disappointed in the record, but not disappointed in these kids,” Calipari said, being careful not to look too far ahead. “We weren’t what we thought we could be in different spots, but we’ll address that when this winds down.”

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.

No. 12 Iowa State holds on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76

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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes matched his season high with 23 points as No. 12 Iowa State held on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76 on Tuesday night.

The Cyclones (15-4, 6-2 Big 12) moved into a three-way tie atop the conference standings with the Wildcats and Texas.

Gabe Kalscheur added 19 points for Iowa State. Osun Osunniyi finished with 16.

Markquis Nowell led Kansas State (17-3, 6-2) with 23 points.

A 3-pointer from Holmes gave Iowa State a 59-49 advantage with 8:12 remaining. Kansas State responded with a 10-1 run to trim the margin to 60-59.

Caleb Grill’s 3-pointer steadied the Cyclones and pushed the lead back to 63-59 with five minutes left.

Free throws by Osunniyi, Grill and Holmes sealed the victory in the final 24 seconds.

The first half featured eight lead changes and ended with Kansas State up 33-31.

A 3-pointer by Kalscheur ignited an early 9-0 run for the Cyclones and helped them build a 19-14 lead. Iowa State made just one of nine 3-point tries in the first 20 minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State was trying to extend its best start to a season since 1961-62.

Iowa State improved to 11-0 at home. The Cyclones have not lost back-to-back games this season.

UP NEXT

Kansas State hosts Florida on Saturday as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Iowa State travels to Missouri on Saturday.

Georgetown snaps 29-game conference losing streak

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WASHINGTON – Primo Spears scored 21 points and Georgetown snapped a 29-game conference losing streak with an 81-76 victory over DePaul on Tuesday night.

Georgetown (6-15, 1-9) won its first Big East game since March 13, 2021, ending the longest skid in the history of the conference. The Hoyas also ended a 10-game losing streak this season.

Spears also contributed six assists for the Hoyas. Akok Akok scored 12 points and added six rebounds and four blocks and Brandon Murray recorded 12 points.

Umoja Gibson led the Blue Demons (9-12, 3-7) in scoring, finishing with 24 points, four assists and three steals. Javan Johnson added 13 points.

Spears scored nine points in the first half and Georgetown went into the break trailing 37-36. Georgetown used a 10-0 run in the second half to build a 12-point lead at 75-63 with 1:39 remaining.

Nance scores 21 as North Carolina survives Syracuse, 72-68

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Pete Nance scored 21 points, capped by a dunk with 19 seconds left that put North Carolina in front for good as the Tar Heels pulled out a hard-fought, 72-68 battle with Syracuse on Tuesday night.

Joe Girard hit from beyond the arc to put Syracuse up, 68-66 with 1:28 left, but after Nance hit the first of two free throws to get North Carolina within one, he missed the second free throw and in the scramble to gather in the rebound, the ball caromed toward the end line and Girard dove to save it. Instead, he flicked the ball right to Nance, who dunked for the lead.

Judah Mintz tried to drive the lane for a go-ahead layup but was called for an offensive foul that was upgraded to a flagrant foul. North Carolina took possession and Caleb Love converted three straight free throws to put the game away.

Armando Bacot scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds with four assists for North Carolina (15-6, 7-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Love finished with 15 points and five assists.

Girard hit 4 of 9 from beyond the arc and finished with 18 points to lead Syracuse (13-8, 6-4). Mintz scored 17 points and had three steals and Chris Bell hit 3 of 5 from deep and finished with 15 points.

North Carolina has a week off before playing host to Pitt on Feb. 1. Syracuse plays at Virginia Tech on Saturday.

Green Bay fires Will Ryan after 11th straight loss

Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports
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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay fired Will Ryan three days after the Phoenix suffered their 11th consecutive loss.

Ryan, the son of former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, posted a 15-61 record in 2 1/2 seasons. Freddie Owens, who had been an assistant coach on Ryan’s staff, will be interim head coach for the rest of the season.

“UW-Green Bay is committed to continuing its legacy as an outstanding Division I athletics program in the future, and Phoenix men’s basketball needs to help lead the way as we work to elevate all of our programs and be a shining light for this region and beyond,” athletic director Josh Moon said in a news release announcing the move.

Moon thanked Ryan and his family for their contributions to the program and said that “we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Stadium first reported Ryan’s firing.

Green Bay dropped to 2-19 overall and 1-9 in the Horizon League with a 72-38 home loss to Robert Morris.

Ryan was hired by Green Bay after going 14-13 in his lone season as the head coach at Division II program Wheeling (West Virginia). Green Bay went 8-17 in Ryan’s debut season and finished 5-25 last year.

Ryan had taken over for Linc Darner, who went 92-80 and posted a winning record in four of his five seasons.