Recapping some of Saturday's top college basketball action...
No. 4 Louisville 80, Kentucky 77:Russ Smith and Chane Behanan combined for 41 points, 14 boards, six steals and six assists as Louisville was able to knock off Kentucky in Gorgui Dieng's return to the lineup. Dieng was relatively ineffective, finishing with six points, seven boards and two blocks in just 20 foul-plagued minutes, but it didn't matter for the Cardinals early on. Louisville pushed an eight-point halftime lead to as much as 17 midway through the second half, using its suffocating defensive pressure to create points off of a series of turnovers from Kentucky's overmatched back court.
When Louisville gets into a rhythm defensively, it is as dangerous as any team in the country. Peyton Siva and Smith are a nightmare to try and drive against with the ball, and the Louisville wings have mastered the art of jumping passing lanes. For about a 10-minute stretch late in the first half and early in the second half, Louisville looked like the best team in the country.
But Kentucky didn't go away. It started with a pair of threes from Kyle Wiltjer. Then Willie Cauley-Stein made a couple of hustle plays and threw down a pair of dunks in traffic. Then Archie Goodwin finally found his way to the basket and his shooting stroke from deep. And despite digging itself into a 17-point hole, Kentucky managed to get within one possession of the Cardinals with five minutes left. Throw in a confidence-boosting 17 points from point guard Ryan Harrow, and there is actually plenty of reason to be pleased with this performance, if not the outcome, for Wildcat fans.
Kentucky's a work in progress, and as evidenced by its play on Saturday, Coach Cal's club is slowly but surely working on getting better.
North Carolina 79, No. 20 UNLV 73: Playing without leading scorer Reggie Bullock due to a concussion he suffered in practice, North Carolina put five players in double figures in notching its biggest win of the young season. The Tar Heels jumped out to a 14-point lead in the first half against the Rebels and while UNLV made a run, taking the lead in the second half, the Heels had every answer. Much of this result can be attributed to the effort put forth by UNLV, but the bottom line is that North Carolina desperately needed this win. The Heels were embarrassed by Butler, Indiana and Texas on national television this season, leading some to speculate that this year would be a repeat of the 2009-2010 season, when the Tar Heels missed the NCAA tournament. But there is still some fight in this UNC team.
The bigger issue here was the play of the Rebels. UNLV's performance in the first half was, frankly, embarrassing. The Rebels spent the first 15 minutes of the game jogging everywhere. Their offensive sets consisted of Anthony Marshall dribbling around for 20 seconds before making a pass that led directly to a forced shot. They were slow defensively and they were lackadaisical on the glass. It was the kind of performance you would expect out of an over-30 men's league team, not a top-20 team playing in the Dean Dome.
The Rebels made a run in the second half, but it wasn't enough. Yet again, a slow start on the road cost them. This is a storyline that UNLV fans should be familiar with, as playing outside of Vegas was UNLV's Achilles' Heel a season ago. The Rebels were 3-0 on the road heading into this game, but that included an eight-point win at Portland, a two-point win at UTEP and a one-point win at Cal. None of those performances were particularly awe-inspiring. Playing in a loaded, balanced Mountain West Conference, Dave Rice's team cannot afford go have bad nights like this.
No. 1 Duke 90, Santa Clara 77: Santa Clara got 29 points from Kevin Foster and gave Duke everything it could handle for 30 minutes. But in the end, Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry ended up being too much, as they sparked a 22-5 run that turned a four-point deficit into a 67-50 lead. Plumlee finished with 22 points, 13 boards and five assists while Curry had a career-high 31 points on 12-18 shooting.
The Broncos made a statement in the loss, however. Gonzaga is undoubtedly the favorite to win the league, but Santa Clara has the horses to challenge St. Mary's and BYU for a top-three finish in the league.
No. 2 Michigan 88, Central Michigan 73: The Wolverines got 22 points and 11 assists from Trey Burke while Glenn Robinson III added 20 points, but the story of this game was Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway say out with an ankle injury, and while it appears to be more of a precautionary measure than an injury to be worried about, it's something to keep an eye on.
No. 6 Kansas 89, American 57: The Jayhawks shot 63 percent from the floor and 15-of-24 from three. Poor American didn't stand a chance.
No. 9 Syracuse 57, Alcorn State 36: Syracuse grabbed 21 offensive rebounds and forced 25 turnovers, yet only managed to score 57 points against an Alcorn State team that is now 2-13. That's what happens when you shoot 37.5 percent from the floor and 12-of-28 from the charity stripe. Free throws are becoming a major concern for the Orange.
No. 10 Ohio State 87, Chicago State 44:LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith combined for 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting. The Buckeyes need those two to become consistent scoring threats to be able to challenge Michigan and Indiana for the Big Ten title.
No. 12 Illinois 81, Auburn 79: Tracy Abrams had a career-high 27 points to go along with eight boards, five assists and four steals, but the Illini struggled defensively against the Tigers. Auburn shot 48.3 percent from the floor and hit 11 threes. It would be easy to put this performance on Brandon Paul's struggles -- he was 3-of-12 from the field, 0-of-5 from three and committed six turnovers -- but that would be disingenuous; Illinois still scored 81 points. It gave up 79 points despite forcing 20 turnovers. That's a problem.
No. 14 Florida 78, Air Force 61: Erik Murphy finished with 21 points, seven boards, four assists and three blocks as the Gators put away a scrappy Air Force team with a second-half surge. That surge was sparked by Kenny Boynton, who hit three threes in the second half. He finished with 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting after entering the game in the worst shooting slump of his career. He had only hit four of his last 32 threes coming into this game.
No. 16 Creighton 87, Evansville 70: The Bluejays kicked off Missouri Valley league play by knocking off the Aces thanks to 29 points and 10 boards form Doug McDermott and 13 points and 13 boards from Gregory Echenique.
No. 18 Butler 68, Vanderbilt 49: This is not the same Vanderbilt team that we have seen the past couple of seasons, but I'm not sure anyone expected Butler to walk into Memorial Gym and put a 19-point shellacking on the Commodores. Rotnei Clarke scored 22 points on six three-pointers to lead the Bulldogs.
No. 23 NC State 84, Western Michigan 68: Richard Howell continues to play like one of the nation's most underrated big men, as he finished with 18 points, nine boards and three assists while hitting 8-of-8 from the field. CJ Leslie added 19 for NC State while TJ Warren once again played like one of the nation's best sixth men, finishing with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
No. 25 Kansas State 52, UMKC 44: It wasn't the prettiest performance for the Wildcats, but thanks to 17 points from Rodney McGruder and a tough defense effort, Kansas State was able to knock off the Kangaroos despite a rough night on the offensive end of the floor. It's worth noting that both Angel Rodriguez and Martavious Irving sat the game out with minor injuries.
BYU 97, Virginia Tech 71: Tyler Haws scored 29 of his 42 points in the first half as the Cougars rolled over a short-handed Virginia Tech team, as he joined his father among the ranks of BYU players who have scored 40 points in a game. (His dad, Marty Haws, went for 40 in 1989.) The 42 points is the most scored in a game by a player this season -- the previous high was 41 scored by Andre Hollins against Memphis, while both Iona's Momo Jones and Central Connecticut's Matt Hunter have scored 40 this year -- but it was well short of the 52 points that Jimmer Fredette scored against New Mexico two years ago.
Valparaiso 66, Murray State 64: Murray State may very well be a dangerous team in the Ohio Valley and a threat to win a game or two in the NCAA tournament this season, but it is not going to compete for an at-large bid this year as the Racers dropped a home game to Valpo on Saturday. Ryan Broekhoff went for 18 points and eight boards in the win for the Horizon League favorites, as they overcame an early 11-point deficit. Murray was led by 24 points and six assists from the All-American Isaiah Canaan.
Florida State 82, Tulsa 63: Michael Snaer had 19 points, four assists and three steals and Terrence Shannon added 16 points and 10 boards as the Seminoles outlasted a scrappy Tulsa team. The Golden Hurricane hit 11 of its first 20 threes, keeping it within striking distance of FSU until late in the second half.
Marquette 75, North Carolina-Central 66: Believe it or not, Marquette was tied with NC Central with six minutes left in the game despite shooting 60 percent from the floor and going 22-of-27 from the free-throw line. That's what happens when you turn the ball over 20 times against a lesser opponent. Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue led the way for the Golden Eagles, finishing with 16 points a piece.
UConn 61, Washington 53: Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun combined to score 39 points as the Huskies shook off a rough night from beyond the arc (2-of-14) to knock off Washington just hours after UConn announced that it had signed Kevin Ollie to a five-year contract. Washington shot just 29.7 percent from the floor for the game.
Harvard 67, Cal 62:Laurent Rivard had 19 points and Wesley Saunders added 18 as the Crimson went into Haas Pavilion and knocked off the Bears, picking up a road win that could pay major dividends when it comes time for seeding in the NCAA tournament. The most impressive part of this win? Siyani Chambers, Harvard's star point guard, was 2-of-15 from the floor and Cal's Allen Crabbe went off for 27 points. Maybe the Crimson will be better than we thought.