Florida upends No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 behind Colin Castleton

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Colin Castleton had 20 points and nine rebounds, Kyle Lofton added 14 points and Florida used a 13-0 run late in the second half to upend No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 on Wednesday night.

The Volunteers, playing with their highest ranking in four years, lost for the first time in five games. They had won nine of 10.

Tennessee (18-4, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) looked like it had taken control midway through the second half. They outscored Florida by 10 points in the early going to take a six-point lead.

But the Gators (13-9, 6-3) stormed back behind Castleton, who scored 11 of 14 points as Florida rallied. The senior had a dunk, two free throws, a three-point play, a layup and a short jumper – essentially putting the team on his back down the stretch.

Myreon Jones and Will Richard chipped in nine points apiece for the Gators.

Zakai Ziegler led the Vols with 15 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Olivier Nkamhoua added 11 points and nine rebounds for the vistors, who also got 11 points and eight boards from Vescovi Santiago.

Florida led 27-21 at halftime, just the fifth time the Volunteers has trailed at the break this season. Tennessee rallied to win three of the previous four.

The Gators were red hot to start, making six of their first eight shots – including all three from 3-point range – while building a 17-4 advantage. But they quickly cooled against the nation’s best defense, missing nine of their next 11 as Tennessee made cut it to 22-21.

The Vols had it going coming out of the locker room, with Ziegler getting into the paint and making things happen. But it was short-lived – thanks mostly to Castleton.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Tennessee surely will drop a few spots in next week’s AP Top 25 college basketball poll.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers gave up 10 points in the opening four minutes of the games, a rare sluggish start for the nation’s best defense. Tennessee had held four of its first eight SEC opponents scoreless at the first media timeout, roughly the first four minutes of games. It was a sign of things to come.

Florida: The Gators have been resilient much of the season, and this was arguably the most impressive comeback of the season for coach Todd Golden’s team. The Gators squandered a 13-point lead early and a six-point advantage in the second half. But they rallied when it mattered.

IN THE HOUSE

Football coach Billy Napier watched the game from a few rows behind Florida’s bench alongside his two sons and receiver Ricky Pearsall. Former Florida tennis star Ben Shelton, the NCAA singles champion in 2022, also was in attendance. So was former Gators and NFL quarterback Doug Johnson.

UP NEXT

Tennessee hosts No. 25 Auburn and former coach Bruce Pearl on Saturday.

Florida plays at Kentucky on Saturday. The Gators have lost seven of eight in the series.

Purdue a unanimous No. 1 in AP Top 25; Tennessee up to No. 2

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Purdue became this season’s first unanimous No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 men’s college basketball poll Monday after wins over Michigan and Michigan State last week as chaos ensued behind the Boilermakers among other ranked teams.

More than half of Top 25 teams lost, including second-ranked Alabama, which was routed by Oklahoma in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. That allowed Purdue to grab the remaining No. 1 votes and tighten its grip atop the poll, while Tennessee jumped two spots to second and Houston held onto third in voting by 62 national media members.

The Boilermakers (21-1) have won eight straight since a one-point loss to Rutgers on Jan. 2.

“We’re the No. 1 team in the country because of how unselfish we are as a team,” Purdue guard David Jenkins Jr. said. “We had a lot of people doubting us in the beginning because, you know, we may not be the most talented team or whatever, but we’re close on the court and off the court and it’s really translating to how we’re winning.”

The Volunteers climbed to their highest perch since reaching No. 1 for four weeks during the 2018-19 season. They routed Georgia before becoming one of three SEC teams to beat Big 12 opponents on Saturday, knocking off No. 10 Texas 82-71 for their fifth consecutive win over a top-10 team.

Perhaps this is the year Rick Barnes finally gets the Vols through the Sweet 16 for the first time as their coach.

“We have a chance to be as good as we want to be,” he said. “It’s up to one thing: Are we tough enough to embrace the daily grind? And not worry about going to the Final Four or worry about going to the NCAA Tournament, but can we build a team that can be successful that time of year? It starts with truly embracing the grind.”

The Crimson Tide dropped to fourth after the blowout loss to the Sooners, when Alabama fell behind by 17 at halftime in an eventual 93-69 defeat. The Tide edged fifth-ranked Arizona by just two points in this week’s poll.

“It doesn’t have any effect on SEC standings, which is the only good thing to come out of this,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said of the lopsided loss. “Hopefully we’ll recover from a loss out of conference, but you know, it’s not good.”

Virginia was sixth and Kansas State, which rebounded from a narrow loss at No. 13 Iowa State by pummeling Florida on Saturday, fell two spots to seventh; the Wildcats face eighth-ranked Kansas in a top-10 showdown Tuesday night.

UCLA dropped to ninth after losing to Southern California and Texas rounded out the top 10.

Baylor continued its climb from unranked to No. 11 following wins over the Jayhawks and Arkansas. The Bears were followed by Gonzaga, Iowa State, Marquette and league rival TCU – the sixth Big 12 team in the top 15.

Xavier, Providence, Saint Mary’s, Florida Atlantic and Clemson completed the top 20, while poll returners Indiana and San Diego State joined Miami, UConn and Auburn in rounding out the Top 25.

RISING AND FALLING

The No. 11 Bears and No. 17 Providence made the biggest leaps, each climbing six spots from last week.

“I think our defense is better. Our turnovers are better. When you don’t give people easy transition baskets, now its five-on-five in the half court,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team had a date with the Longhorns on Monday night.

“We execute at a pretty high rate,” Drew said. “It really comes down to taking care of the ball, making sure we get shots up and when you don’t make them, you’ve got to get rebounds. And our guys are buying into that.”

Auburn took the biggest hit of those still in the poll, dropping 10 places after losses to unranked Texas A&M and West Virginia.

IN AND OUT

The Hoosiers returned to the poll at No. 21 and the Aztecs rejoined it right behind them. They took the place of Charleston, which fell out from No. 18 after losing to Hofstra, and New Mexico, which lost to Nevada in double overtime last week.

CONFERENCE CALL

The Big 12’s dominance of the SEC in the final year of their head-to-head challenge was rewarded in the poll, where the league led the way with six ranked teams and all of them in the top 15. The Big East has four teams in the poll but none higher than No. 14 Marquette, while the SEC and ACC have three teams apiece.

Houston, Kansas stay atop Top 25 while FAU enters for 1st time

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Houston and Kansas remained firmly atop The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll after a record weekend of Top 25 losses, while Florida Atlantic took advantage of the chaos to crack the ranking for the first time in school history.

Eleven teams in the Top 25 went down on Saturday, tying a record that has stood for nearly 12 years, while Connecticut and Marquette also lost on Sunday to give the AP poll one of its biggest shakeups in recent history.

The banged-up Cougars, who had to fight off South Florida to avoid their own upset loss, watched their advantage over the Jayhawks shrink ever so slightly, pulling in 34 of 60 first-place votes from a national media panel. Kansas received 23 votes to remain second while Purdue picked up the remaining three to stay third.

Alabama remained at No. 4 while UCLA, riding a 13-game winning streak, climbed two spots to round out the top five.

“We’ve dodged a lot of bullets this year in terms of injuries and stuff. Sometimes you just got to get lucky,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “I thought we got lucky (against South Florida). We could’ve lost that game.”

Plenty of other teams weren’t so fortunate.

Tennessee fell four spots to No. 9 after losing to unranked Kentucky; UConn dropped from sixth to No. 15 after falling to Marquette and St. John’s, giving the Huskies four losses in their last five games; Arizona fell two to No. 11 after losing to Oregon and Kansas State fell two to No. 13 after losing to TCU; Arkansas plummeted 10 spots to No. 25 after losses to Alabama and Vanderbilt; and Missouri and Wisconsin dropped out altogether after each lost twice last week.

Kansas may have had the most impressive week, beating Oklahoma on Tuesday before squeaking by Iowa State 62-60 on Saturday – though the Cyclones were notable enough in defeat that they actually climbed two spots to No. 12 in the poll.

“We can play better, but it was a great week,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “I don’t mean to say this in a way that comes off wrong, but people would get fired up to play against Kansas because of time, and then you add a national championship onto it, I mean, it’s a big game for folks. Big games for us, too. So sometimes I think we look at it like, `Well, we should be doing this better,’ which is true in some cases, but sometimes we’re getting some pretty good efforts from other opponents.

“So being able to win those games,” Self said, “I think, is a mark of a pretty decent team.”

Gonzaga climbed to sixth in the poll Monday and was followed by Texas, Xavier, Tennessee and Virginia. Arizona was 11th, with the Cyclones ahead of Big 12 rivals Kansas State and TCU. UConn, Auburn, Miami, Charleston, Clemson and Marquette made the top 20. The final five were Baylor, Providence, Rutgers, FAU and Arkansas.

FAU, which has just one NCAA Tournament appearance in three decades of Division I hoops, continued its rise under Dusty May, a onetime student manager for Bob Knight who also worked for Mike White at Florida.

“This group is very poised,” May said of his Owls, who have won 15 straight after an early loss to Ole Miss. “Even when there’s friction, they stay together and love each other and support each other. That’s a sign of a really good team.”

RISING AND FALLING

Xavier climbed four spots to No. 8 after pushing its winning streak to 11 games, Charleston also moved up four to No. 18 on the heels of its 17-game winning streak, while Marquette moved up five spots despite its close loss to the Musketeers.

Arkansas took the biggest tumble, falling 10 spots to No. 25, while UConn dropped nine to No. 15.

IN AND OUT

Clemson debuted at No. 19 after coach Brad Brownell picked up his 400th victory and the Tigers improved on the best start in ACC play in school history (7-0) with a 72-64 win over Duke on Saturday. Baylor, Rutgers and FAU also entered the poll at the expense of San Diego State, Wisconsin, Missouri and the Blue Devils.

“If you’re going to be good, you need to have a superpower,” Brownell said. “Maybe it’s defense, shooting, rebounding – you know, hopefully it’s multiple things to be really good. I think our superpower is our camaraderie. The unity, the genuine care and love for one another, is clearly evident. I think that’s why we’re winning.”

WAITING IN THE WINGS

North Carolina State and Saint Mary’s are the first teams to land outside the Top 25, while North Carolina State went from receiving no votes a week ago to nearly making the poll after wins over Virginia Tech and Miami.

Kentucky, John Calipari frustrated by season-long struggles

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky All-American forward Oscar Tshiebwe is wondering whether the Wildcats’ walk-ons should play at this point in a frustrating season, just to show some fire.

For college basketball’s reigning player of the year to challenge his talented teammates speaks volumes of the crisis within one of the sport’s most prestigious and successful programs.

“Play the people who are willing to fight, even some walk-ons,” the usually affable senior said after a 71-68 home loss to South Carolina. “Put the people who try to look cute on offense where they don’t want to play defense, put them on the bench. We’re here to fight and to try to do something.”

Kentucky began the season No. 4 and was favored to win the Southeastern Conference – along with its own usual high expectations of a national championship. At this point, the Wildcats have some work to do to even just get on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

The team’s passionate fan base has unleashed hurt and anger on talk shows and social media, even calling for coach John Calipari’s exit. Reports that Texas has reached out to the Hall of Famer for its coaching vacancy have only fueled that once-unthinkable sentiment to the point that one fan was escorted from Rupp Arena because of a sign that said, “Please go to Texas.”

Yes, it has come to that within Big Blue Nation.

Calipari will earn $8.5 million this season with $53 million remaining on a “lifetime” contract through the 2028-29 season that doesn’t have a buyout. He said this week he has not spoken with Texas, and insisted that he ignores the noise.

But Calipari knows the discontent is there and getting louder with each discouraging defeat.

“And are fans mad? They should be,” he said after Kentucky’s 28-game home winning streak was snapped. “We lost at home. We don’t lose at home. We lost at home.”

Calipari also addressed the obvious: a 10-6 Kentucky team that’s 1-3 in the SEC must improve, starting with himself.

The Wildcats are struggling with chemistry and consistency on both ends of the floor. Calipari’s strategy and recruiting are enduring harsh scrutiny. Injuries haven’t helped, though Tshiebwe is averaging 16 points and 13.1 rebounds per game after a preseason procedure on his right knee. Still, a physical Alabama squad limited him to six rebounds and four points in a 78-52 shellacking in which Kentucky’s starters tallied just 27 points against the now-No. 4 Crimson Tide.

Jay Bilas believes it’s too soon to panic, but noted that the Wildcats must step it up in the second half of the season.

“This is not an X-and-O issue, this is a player issue,” Bilas said in a phone interview. “And the players have to bring more, do more collectively and individually than they’ve done. Some players are going to be more capable of doing more than others. But this isn’t an issue of run a different offense and all of a sudden everything gets better.”

Whatever needs to be done, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart expressed faith in Calipari’s ability to fix it during an interview on Kentucky Sports Radio.

“We’ve battled some injury bugs, we’ve battled some confidence bugs and hopefully we can get those things put behind us,” Barnhart said. “We’ve got 14, 15 games left in the regular season and get where we want to get to postseason and make a run. We’re famous for doing that and Cal’s teams are famous for doing that.”

In a hoops-mad state that expects championships and annual top-three recruiting classes, the problem is that Kentucky hasn’t won an NCAA championship since 2012, made a Final Four since going 38-1 in the 2014-15 season or been a serious national title contender since an overtime loss to Auburn in the Elite Eight in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the Big Dance in 2020, and 9-16 collapse the next year left the Wildcats out altogether.

Tshiebwe’s phenomenal breakout keyed last season’s rebound, but the team was upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by No. 15 Saint Peter’s – considered Kentucky’s worst NCAA loss ever.

With the 6-foot-9 Tshiebwe returning, there were, again, high expectations. As of now, Kentucky’s tournament resume lacks a Quad 1 victory after losses to Michigan State, Gonzaga, UCLA, ‘Bama and now-No. 20 Missouri by double digits.

This week’s loss to the Gamecocks demonstrated everything Kentucky has done wrong. The Wildcats never led against the SEC’s lowest-rated team, and it took a furious rally to get within a point before missing attempts to tie it up in the final seconds. Afterward, Tshiebwe lamented.

“Some of us coming in are taking things for granted,” he said. “I just tell them, (that) the coaches, they cannot do it for us. They just come out with the game plan with who we are going to depend on and how we are going to play offense.

“We come to Kentucky for a very good reason, we come chasing greatness. And if you come not willing to fight, it’s going to be tough.”

Kentucky’s immediate outlook looks dire with a visit to No. 5 Tennessee, which won last year’s meeting 76-63 in Knoxville and four of the last six matchups overall. Volunteers coach Rick Barnes nonetheless expects the Wildcats’ best this weekend and beyond with Calipari.

“I’m not sure he’s had his whole team together all year,” Barnes said. “One thing I do know is his teams always get better and play their best basketball late in the year.”

Then the Wildcats host No. 2 Kansas, the reigning national champions, on Jan. 28 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Jayhawks no doubt will aim to avenge last season’s 80-62 rout at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kentucky also has two meetings against No. 15 Arkansas and a home rematch with the Volunteers.

Considering the Wildcats lost to a South Carolina team that got drilled by 43 at home by Tennessee, they can’t afford to look past any SEC opponent. But right now, the concern is whether the Wildcats can beat one.

“Every game we play is going to be a dogfight with us being Kentucky,” forward Daimion Collins said. “We just have to fight, work hard, rebound and defend. If we do those things we’ll win some games.”

Green, No. 22 Auburn beats No. 13 Arkansas, 72-59

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AUBURN, Ala. — Wendell Green Jr. hit a 3-pointer, drew a foul and polished off a four-point play just 14 seconds into the game.

No. 22 Auburn never lost the lead after that fast start.

Green scored 19 points and Allen Flanigan matched his season high with 18 to lead the Tigers to a 72-59 victory over No. 13 Arkansas on Saturday night in their first game against a ranked opponent. It was a turnaround from a loss at Georgia.

“I think everyone in here would agree that we needed that,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Could you have expected it? I don’t know. But they really showed me something tonight. The bounce-back. The quick turnaround.

“Played great from the start. We got Wendell some really good looks against the Arkansas defense. He got us off to a great start.”

The Tigers (12-3, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) took a double-digit lead into halftime and didn’t come close to becoming another comeback victim of the Razorbacks (12-3, 1-2).

Green had five assists, while Flanigan pulled down eight rebounds.

“It was wonderful to see Allen Flanigan have one of the best games of his career in an important game,” said Pearl, calling it “probably one of the top four or five wins” he has had at Neville Arena.

Johni Broome finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds for Auburn in his third straight double-double. He also blocked six shots.

Anthony Black led Arkansas with 23 points after the freshman totaled 13 in his first two SEC games. He matched that from the free throw line alone, making 13 of 16. Ricky Council IV had 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

“I thought Anthony Black was absolutely spectacular offensively,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “We didn’t have much else besides that.”

Black scored 11 straight Arkansas points with Auburn threatening to run away with it in the second half.

The Razorbacks twice cut the deficit to nine points in the final four minutes, but couldn’t come closer.

“It’s crazy. We missed 13 free throws (in 32 attempts) and we lost by 13,” Black said. “We missed a couple of easy ones, offensive rebounds, put-backs. We couldn’t hit a shot, myself included.”

Green made 3 of 4 free throws in the final minute and Flanigan hit both of his attempts from the line to avoid any kind of jeopardy.

A matchup of two of the nation’s worst 3-point shooting teams was one-sided from long range. Arkansas, which came in ranked 321st in 3-point percentage, made just 2 of 16 (12.5%). Auburn was 330th in that category, but made 7 of 21 (33.3%). Flanigan hit three.

“Everybody knows the 3-point shooting, you’re not just miraculously going to wake up and all of a sudden become a great 3-point shooting team,” Musselman said. “So you’ve got to figure other ways to put points on the board.”

Auburn took a 36-25 lead into halftime after Arkansas failed to make a basket over the final five minutes.

Green scored seven points in the first 90 seconds, including a pair of 3-pointers. That matched his point total in a loss to Georgia when he was 2-of-12 shooting.

“I just wanted to come back and show how I play,” Green said. “That’s how I play. It just felt good to see that first shot go in.”

BIG PICTURE

Arkansas: Couldn’t pull off its fourth comeback from a double-digit deficit and second straight after rallying from 17 down to beat Missouri. Outrebounded Auburn 45-32.

Auburn: Snapped a three-game losing streak to the Razorbacks and rebounded strongly from a 76-64 loss at Georgia that put the Tigers in jeopardy of falling from the rankings for the first time.

UP NEXT

Arkansas: Hosts No. 7 Alabama on Wednesday night.

Auburn: Visits Mississippi on Tuesday night.

No. 13 Arkansas rallies from 17 down to beat No. 20 Missouri

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Ricky Council scored 25 points and Joseph Pinion scored 13 off the bench as No. 13 Arkansas rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat No. 20 Missouri 74-68 on Wednesday night.

The Razorbacks (12-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) didn’t lead until back-to-back fast-break buckets from Council and guard Devo Davis provided a one-point advantage with 14:24 left. Pinion followed with a 3-pointer to cap a 9-0 run. Five minutes later, Arkansas went on another run, 7-0, to build the lead to eight points.

Missouri (12-2, 1-1) had stifled Arkansas and built its lead to 17 points with its zone defense in the first half, limiting the Razorbacks to 36% shooting from the field and 2 for 12 from 3-point range.

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman injected the little-used Pinion, a shooting specialist, into the game with the Razorbacks trailing by 10. The freshman scored his 13 points on 4 of 7 shooting, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range, in a career-high 27 minutes.

Council, who entered as the SEC’s third-leading scorer averaging 17.9 points per game, scored 21 of his 25 in the second half.

Missouri lost its lead on the interior on the glass. The Tigers’ zone failed in the second half as Pinion’s 3-point shooting forced it toward the perimeter. Arkansas shot 62% in the final 20 minutes and outrebounded Missouri, 40-23, for the game.

Davis joined Council and Pinion in double figures for Arkansas with 10 points.

Sean East led Missouri with 13 points, while Nick Honor and Kobe Brown added 12 and 11, respectively.

BIG PICTURE

Arkansas has struggled most with teams who pack in defenses, but coach Eric Musselman’s team has shown itself capable of overcoming that strategy with its athleticism.

Missouri’s loss is barely damaging. The Tigers still own wins over Illinois and Kentucky and a road loss in an SEC game to a top-15 team won’t hurt the NCAA Tournament resume.

UP NEXT

Missouri: Hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Arkansas: Travels to Auburn on Saturday.