Skal Labissiere

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No. 20 Kentucky blows out Missouri, 88-54

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Tyler Ulis scored 20 points, Derek Willis added a career-best 18 and No. 20 Kentucky used an early 20-0 run to blow past outmanned Missouri 88-54 on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats (16-4, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) had it easy in improving to 9-0 against the Tigers and winning their third straight overall. Kentucky spotted the Tigers an opening layup by Wes Clark before the big spurt that quickly put the game out of reach, twice stretching its lead to 40 points in the second half.

Good shooting was the key again for Kentucky, which made 52 percent from the field after hitting 55 percent against Vanderbilt.

Willis also grabbed 12 rebounds for his second double-double in four games. Isaiah Briscoe had 15 points, Skal Labissiere 12 and Jamal Murray 11 to round out Kentucky’s double-figure scorers.

Clark had 11 points for Missouri (8-12, 1-6 SEC), which sustained its biggest loss this season.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 9 Iowa, No. 23 Kentucky pick up road wins

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Hofstra 96, Northeastern 92 (3OT)

The Pride and Huskies needed 15 extra minutes to determine a winner, with Hofstra coming out on top in the end. Juan’ya Green accounted for 23 points and 14 assists in the win, with Rokas Gustys scoring 23 and grabbing 20 rebounds. Quincy Ford and Zach Stahl scored 19 apiece for the Huskies, with Stahl also grabbing 11 boards. With the win Hofstra moves into a four-way tie for first in the CAA with William & Mary, James Madison and UNCW.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

Saint Mary’s 70, Gonzaga 67: The Gaels took over sole possession of first place in the WCC, as they came back from a 15-point second half deficit to end Gonzaga’s 13-game road win streak. Evan Fitzner scored 20 points and Joe Rahon added 13 and three assists for Saint Mary’s, which shot 63 percent from the field in the second half. Eric McClellan scored 23 points for Gonzaga, but he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 in the game’s final seconds after being fouled by Rahon.

No. 23 Kentucky 80, Arkansas 66: Tyler Ulis scored 24 points and Jamal Murray added 19 for the Wildcats, who got back on the right track with a win in Fayetteville. But the biggest takeaways are the play of Derek Willis and Skal Labissiere, with the former scoring 12 points for the second straight game and Labissiere scoring 11 points. If Kentucky can get some consistency in the front court, the equation changes for John Calipari’s team. But it’s better to be cautious with this group moving forward.

Cincinnati 76, Memphis 72: In a matchup of two teams looking to strengthen their respective résumés, the Bearcats held serve at home. Troy Caupain scored 25 points and Shaq Thomas added 18 for Cincinnati, which shot 50 percent from the field and converted 15 Memphis turnovers into 16 points. Trahson Burrell and Avery Woodson combined to score 42 points off the bench for the Tigers, who made just two of their last ten shots from the field.

Oregon 89, No. 21 USC 81: USC played its first game as a ranked team since the 2008-09 season, and they didn’t get the ending they wanted in Eugene. Elgin Cook led four Oregon players in double figures with 26 points, with Bennie Boatwright pacing USC with 23. If anything, the game served as a reminder that Oregon’s figured out its rotation and is a conference title contender themselves.

STARRED

Iowa’s Peter Jok: Hovering just under 40 percent from the field for most of the season, Jok’s shot better than 50 percent from the field in each of the last three games. Thursday, he scored 29 points on 10-for-19 shooting in a win at Rutgers.

Hofstra’s Rokas Gustys: Scored 23 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in Hofstra’s triple-overtime win at Northeastern.

BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth: The senior guard tallied the tenth triple-double of his BYU career, racking up ten points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists and five steals in the Cougars’ 91-80 comeback win at Loyola Marymount.

STRUGGLED

Towson: Just two Tigers managed to make multiple field goals in their 40-37 loss to the College of Charleston. As a team the Tigers shot 23.9 percent from the field.

Stanford’s Rosco Allen: Allen scored four points on 1-for-12 shooting in a loss to No. 12 Arizona.

San Diego’s Duda Sanadze: Shot 1-for-13 from the field, scoring two points in the Toreros’ 76-58 loss at Pepperdine.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 9 Iowa moved to 6-0 in the Big Ten with a 90-76 win at Rutgers. Peter Jok scored 29 points, and Jarrod Uthoff and Anthony Clemmons added 20 apiece for the Hawkeyes.
  • No. 12 Arizona pulled away down the stretch as they won 71-57 at Stanford. Gabe York scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson 18 for Sean Miller’s Wildcats.

OTHER NOTABLE OUTCOMES

  • T.J. Cromer scored 20 points on the night, leading East Tennessee State to a 65-63 overtime win over Mercer.
  • Fairleigh Dickinson scored 62 second half points as they came back to beat LIU Brooklyn 101-95. Darian Anderson led five Knights in double figures with 32 points.
  • Charlotte handed Marshall its first loss on Conference USA play, beating the Thundering Herd 103-95. Mark Price’s 49ers were led offensively by Andrien White, who scored 30 points on the night.
  • Both James Madison and William & Mary picked up wins to remain part of a four-way tie for first in the CAA, with the Dukes blowing out Drexel 68-45 and the Tribe doing the same to Elon (89-67). The two teams meet for the first time this season January 31.
  • North Florida moved to 5-0 in the Atlantic Sun with a 78-62 win at USC Upstate. Nick Malonga and Dallas Moore led six Ospreys in double figures with 16 points apiece.
  • Chattanooga moved to 6-1 in the SoCon with a 73-60 win over UNC Greensboro. Eric Robertson scored 22 points and Justin Tuoyo added 18 for the 17-3 Mocs.
  • Manhattan handed Monmouth its second conference loss, beating the Hawks 78-71 in Riverdale. Next up for the two-time defending MAAC tournament champion Jaspers are Saint Peter’s (6-1 MAAC) and Iona (6-2).
  • Ethan Happ scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as Wisconsin won 66-60 at Penn State.
  • UT-Arlington moved to 5-1 in the Sun Belt with a 91-64 win over Arkansas State. Kennedy Eubanks scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the win.
  • Playing their first game without injured guard Tyrone Wallace, California held off Arizona State 75-70. Ivan Rabb scored 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists for the Golden Bears.
  • Idaho knocked off Montana 63-58 in Missoula, handing the Grizzlies their first loss in Big Sky play. Victor Sanders scored a game-high 27 for the winners.
  • Belmont moved to 6-0 in the OVC with an 82-72 win at UT-Martin. Amanze Egekeze scored 20 points, Craig Bradshaw 19 and Evan Bradds 18 for the Bruins, who shot 14-for-45 from three on the night.
  • UAB moved to 6-0 in Conference USA with an 82-70 win over Rice. Robert Brown scored 19 points and Nick Norton 18 to lead the way for the Blazers.
  • New Mexico State remained a game behind Grand Canyon and CSU Bakersfield in the loss column in the WAC with a 68-60 win at Seattle. Pascal Siakam posted another double-double, finishing with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
  • Nick Emery scored 24 points and Chase Fischer 20 in BYU’s 91-80 win at Loyola Marymount. Despite winning the Cougars had no answer for Adom Jacko, who went for 26 points and 12 boards.
  • Jordan Loveridge scored 22 points and Brandon Taylor 21 as Utah beat Washington State 92-71 in Pullman.

No. 23 Kentucky beats Arkansas as Skal Labissiere … actually plays well?

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Tyler Ulis went for 24 points and five assists and Jamal Murray chipped in with 19 points as No. 23 Kentucky went into Arkansas and knocked the Razorbacks, 80-66 on Thursday night.

Derek Willis also played well, finishing with 12 points, seven boards and four blocks just four days after posting a double-double in the loss at Auburn. The Wildcats played as well as they have in SEC play on Thursday, which is all the more impressive considering that they had lost two of their first three road games in league play.

All in all, Thursday night was a good night for the Wildcats.

But the real story of this game was the guy that’s been the story of the Kentucky season: Skal Labissiere. The 7-foot freshman had his best game in SEC play and played his best basketball since … November, maybe? And to get an idea of just how tough this season has been for Labissiere, he had 11 points, three boards and three blocks at Arkansas.

He shot 4-for-10 from the floor. He had four fouls. He wasn’t exactly dominant.

But he was active. He played with confidence. He threw down a couple of massive dunks in traffic. He hit an 18-footer. He had a really nice drive where he took two dribbles, put Moses Kingsley in the spin-cycle and hit a little eight-foot jumper over the 6-foot-11 Arkansas center:

Those plays are the kind of plays that earned Labissiere such a high-ranking in the Class of 2015. They’re the reason that his name still gets mentioned in the lottery of mock drafts. They’re why, despite a freshman season that has, to date, been an abject disaster, Labissiere’s ceiling is still mentioned just as often as his struggles.

But it wasn’t just those plays. He was more active on the glass, he blocked three shots and, most importantly, he looked like he was engaged mentally and having fun. It’s amazing what a dose of confidence can do for a player.

It will be interesting to see where Labissiere goes from here, but the hope here should be baby steps. He’s not going to turn into an all-american overnight, but if Kentucky can get productive minutes from him and turn him into a threat offensively, it absolutely makes them a better team.

This doesn’t change the fact that he’s still a step slow when reading the game, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, and that he needs to get stronger and tougher in the paint, but it was impossible to watch him tonight and not come away thinking — hoping? — that he’s turned a corner.

At the very least, the performance had Coach Cal jumping with joy:

No. 14 Kentucky gets upset at Auburn as Wildcat slide continues

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Bruce Pearl landed the biggest win of his Auburn tenure on Saturday night as his injury-depleted, 7-8 Tigers team knocked off No. 14 Kentucky in Auburn Arena, 75-70.

The Auburn crowd flooded the floor after the win, a storm that will cost the athletic department $50,000, but after knocking off his former arch-nemesis, John Calipari, I have a feeling that Bruce Pearl would gladly sign that check himself.

Kareem Canty led the way for the Tigers with 26 points and four assists despite spraining his ankle in the second half, and Providence transfer Tyler Harris chipped in with 21 points and 11 boards. Cinmeon Bowers didn’t play all that well but his size and physicality created all kinds of problems for a Kentucky front line that has proven to be anything but consistent this season.

And that’s where Kentucky’s issues truly lie this season.

Look, let’s call it like it is: Skal Labissiere is never going to be the kid that we were hoping he’d be this season. That ship has sailed. On Saturday, he finished with four points, two boards and three fouls in just eight minutes. His confidence is shot. Calipari’s confidence in him is shot. This isn’t a situation that is going to fix itself this year, and the issue is that so much of the hype Kentucky had entering this season was built around the idea that Labissiere was going to be awesome.

And he may very well still be awesome in the long run.

But the odds of it happening while he’s still in Lexington are slim, and the issue is that behind him, there really isn’t much waiting in line in their front court. Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress are still in school for a reason: they’re nothing more than serviceable forwards. Would they be a perfect fours alongside Labissiere if he played like, say, Karl Towns? Yeah, they would, but neither of them are going to consistently be effective as the featured big man. They combined for nine points and seven boards on Saturday.

That’s why Kentucky right now looks like a team destined to get an eight seed and lose in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament as opposed to an SEC title contender and a potential Final Four team.

Kentucky is still going to be able to win some games on the nights where their guards play out of their minds, like they did against Duke and like Tyler Ulis did against Louisville. But when Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe combine to shoot 16-for-51 from the floor, the Wildcats are going to be in danger every single night.

LSU lands marquee win over No. 9 Kentucky, but should Wildcat fans be worried now?

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2016 has been quite kind to LSU.

Just 72 hours after dispatching Vanderbilt in Nashville, LSU picked up their first marquee win of the season, knocking off No. 9 Kentucky 85-67 in Baton Rouge.

The most promising part for LSU fans?

This win wasn’t simply a result of Ben Simmons doing things that no one else at the collegiate level can do.

The future No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft didn’t play poorly, mind you, as he finished with 14 points, 10 boards, three assists, two steals and a block while hitting all five of his field goals. But he played just 10 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble and spent the majority of the second half acting as a distributor and a decoy. I asked during the game whether or not Simmons had broken a sweat on Tuesday night, and I was only half-kidding. I don’t want to say he was coasting, but there certainly wasn’t the same aggressiveness that he had on Saturday at Vandy.

Simmons shot five field goals and six free throws on Tuesday night. He had 15 shots and 19 trips to the charity stripe on Saturday.

To a point, that’s an issue for LSU. They need Simmons to be a killer. They need him to be a guy that can take over games and that can bully any defenders that’s unable to guard him; technically, that’s just about every defender in college basketball.

But he wasn’t really needed on Tuesday. Tim Quarterman played his best game of the year, finishing with 21 points, 10 boards (six offensive) and seven assists. Quarterman is a guy who intrigues NBA scouts because of his size (6-foot-6) and versatility — like Simmons, he can function as a point guard — but he’s been erratic thus far this season. Getting him on track is just as important as getting Simmons to be aggressive on every possession for the Tigers in the long run.

What about Kentucky?

Is it time to start getting worried about them?

Because I think that it may be. Their front line just isn’t what we thought it was going to be. Not even close. Their four big men — Skal Labissiere, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Isaac Humphries — combined for seven points, nine boards and 15 fouls on Tuesday night.

Their entire front line!

As a group they didn’t even record a double-double if you include fouls all while three Tigers notched double-doubles as they collected 16 offensive rebounds as a team. Part of that was because Lee played just five minutes due to foul trouble. Part of it was due to Isaac Humphries being less ready for the college game than Labissiere is. Part of the problem was, frankly, they played Ben Simmons.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Kentucky’s big men just aren’t as dominant as they’ve been in the past, and that puts the onus on their guards to be sensational every night, and they just haven’t been. Tyler Ulis is terrific, but he’s a kid that needs to be a distributor and a facilitator, the coach-on-the-floor kind of point guard. When he’s option 1B offensively, that’s a problem, especially when option Jamal Murray, option 1A, is so up and down.

When Murray’s cookin’, he’s as dangerous of a scorer as you’ll find in college basketball. But when he’s cold, they might as well be running John Calipari off of screens. He does make some highlight reel plays, but he also has head-scratching turnovers that can be momentum killers.

To keep things in perspective, they lost a road game in conference play to a team with the nation’s best player in a venue that always seems to give Kentucky trouble. Even with the margin — and 18 point loss — the sky isn’t falling.

But their ceiling is.

With each performance like this, it feels less and less likely that Kentucky will be in the national title conversation come Selection Sunday.

CBT PODCAST: Louisville/Kentucky, scout opinions and conference resets

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Happy Holidays! The CBT crew of Rob Dauster, Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips made their return to the podcast on Monday, and there was quite a bit to discuss.

Kentucky’s two-point win over Louisville and scout opinions on UK freshman Skal Labissiere were discussed, as was Oklahoma’s chances of winning the national title.

Finally the podcast was closed out with thoughts on how the major conference races would shake out, with league play set to tip off this week.

As always, you can listen to the podcast by clicking “play” on the Soundcloud player embedded below. Or you can do so through either iTunes or Stitcher if you so choose. Thanks for listening!