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UConn, Oklahoma State suffer upsets on college hoops Saturday

UConn's Shabazz Napier UConn's Shabazz Napier (13) couldn't get it going in a loss to SMU on Saturday. (Ray Carlin/Icon SMI)

When no. 17 UConn lost at home to Stanford on December 18, the consensus was that the Huskies -- then ranked no. 10 in the Associated Press Poll, with wins over Maryland, Indiana and no. 12 Florida -- would bounce back in time for the start of American Athletic Conference play.

But after winning on the road at Washington and beating Eastern Washington at home, UConn dropped its conference opener on New Year’s Eve at Houston. National Player of the Year candidate Shabazz Napier seemed to do everything in his power to keep his team from falling at Hofheinz Pavilion; he scored 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds. It wasn’t enough.

On Saturday, Napier converted just two field goals and finished with 12 points as the Huskies lost at SMU, 74-65, to fall to 0-2 in conference play. The Huskies shot just 36.7 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from three-point range and struggled to contain Mustangs guard Nic Moore, who scored 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go with six assists.

The Mustangs might well earn at at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament this season -- and with Hall-of-Fame coach Larry Brown running the show with a talented, balanced roster at his disposal, perhaps SMU simply is better than UConn right now. But that doesn’t gloss over the fact UConn isn’t playing nearly as well as it was at the beginning of the season.

The Huskies have one of the best perimeter groups in the country; few teams can matchup with Napier and Ryan Boatright. But if no one emerges as a reliable interior scoring threat, UConn’s offense will lack balance. Just 48.7 percent of its points have come from two-point shots this season (257th in the country), and they’re not getting to the free throw line nearly as much as they need to be: the Huskies’ free-throw rate (37.5) ranks 238th in the country.

There will be games when Napier can’t carry UConn to victories by himself. When that happens, he will need help from Boatright, guard Omar Calhoun, forward DeAndre Daniels and other teammates. On Saturday, when Napier scored nearly five points below his season average (16.3), they weren’t able to pick up the slack. Contributions from Boatright (15 points), guard-forward Lasan Kromah (12 points off the bench), Calhoun (5 points) and forward DeAndre Daniels (11 points) weren’t enough to push the Huskies past a game SMU squad.

"There's nobody for us to look at besides ourselves," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said after the game. "And that's me included — first and foremost, that's me included. There will be some changes; we can't keep doing the same things."

UConn will need to break out of its slump quickly, lest it lose too much ground in the AAC title race. It faces Ivy League favorite Harvard at Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday before taking on Central Florida (Jan. 11), No. 18 Memphis (Jan. 16) and No. 14 Louisville (Jan. 18) in succession.

At times, the Huskies have looked like one of the most talented teams in their conference. They have one of the best guards in the county manning their backcourt and have proven they can beat decent-to-good teams. They just need to rediscover what fueled their early success.

Or maybe UConn just isn’t as good as most once thought it was.

Kansas State 74, (6) Oklahoma State 71

This has not been a good week for no. 6 Oklahoma State. First, it lost one of its best big men and leading shot-blocker, Michael Cobbins, for the season with a torn Achilles’ tendon. Then freshmen guard Stevie Clark was arrested for marijuana possession (his status going forward is unclear), after sitting out four games earlier this year for another marijuana-related issue. Both players played key roles for the Cowboys, one of the favorites to win the Big 12.

That neither player was available for Oklahoma State’s game at Kansas State Saturday no doubt hampered the Cowboys, who fell 74-71 to open Big 12 play with a loss in Manhattan for the second consecutive season. Preseason first-team All-American Marcus Smart scored 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting and grabbed six rebounds, but Wildcats freshman Marcus Foster upstaged him by dropping 17 and grabbing eight rebounds.

Since losing consecutive games to Charlotte and Georgetown at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November, Kansas State has won nine straight games. The Wildcats were expected to take a step back after losing some key contributors from last season, but their performance over the past five-plus weeks suggests they can compete with Oklahoma State, Kansas and No. 9 Baylor for the Big 12 title.

While Oklahoma State was expected to win this game, it’s not surprising that it struggled a bit in its first game without Clark and Cobbins. Smart, who missed a number of shots down the stretch including a last-ditch three at the buzzer, shot just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. He’ll need to do better than that for Oklahoma State to beat the Big 12’s best this season.

The Cowboys should get back on track over their next three games -- Texas (Jan. 8), at West Virginia (Jan. 11) and TCU (Jan. 15) -- before tripping to No. 16 Kansas on Jan. 18.

Notes

- Notre Dame upset no. 7 Duke at the Joyce Center on Saturday. Guard Patt Connaughton threw down a powerful right-handed dunk over Blue Devils freshman Jabari Parker late in the second half of the Irish's win:

(h/t SB Nation)

SI’s Brian Hamilton has more from that game.

- In a matchup of former Conference USA teams, Cincinnati held Memphis to just 53 points on 33 percent shooting (and 12 percent from three-point range) and beat the Tigers by 16. Bearcats guard Sean Kilpatrick scored 11 of his 18 points in the final four minutes to seal the game, while forward Justin Jackson chipped in 13 points and eight rebounds. Cincinnati, who ranks 10th in the country in defensive efficiency, has allowed an opponent to score more than 62 points just once this season. Not even the Tigers’ high-powered offense, which is scoring 1.14 points per possession (19th in the country), could unhinge the Bearcats’ suffocating D. Mick Cronin’s team will struggle to win high-scoring games this season, but its defense is so stifling it may not need to score a lot of points to compete for an AAC title. Cincinnati, now 2-0 in conference play, will play at Houston on Tuesday.

- After falling behind 17-2 less than six minutes into its ACC opener at NC State, Pitt dominated the Wolfpack inside, scoring 26 of its 34 second-half points in the paint, to roll to a 12-point win (74-62). Guard Lamar Patterson led the Panthers with 22 points and forward Talib Zanna had 15 and snatched nine rebounds. The Wolfpack (10-4) isn’t a great team, but this nonetheless counts as a nice win for Pittsburgh (13-1), whose only loss on the season is a one-point decision on a neutral court against Cincinnati. Many have contended that Pittsburgh’s gaudy record is the product of a soft non-conference schedule. That may be at least partially true -- Pittsburgh’s non-league SOS checks in at no. 302 on Ken Pomeroy’s Pythagorean NCSOS ranking -- but the way the Panthers won in Raleigh Saturday was impressive. It would not be surprising to see Jamie Dixon’s team enter the top 25 of the polls sooner rather than later.

- It’s not easy to win road games in the Big Ten, but No. 5 Michigan State has won two over the past five days. Powered by 26 points and five steals from preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Gary Harris, the Spartans took down Indiana 73-56 at Assembly Hall on Saturday. This might have been the best game Harris has played so far this season. He made impact plays on both ends of the floor, scored in a variety of ways and played effective defense throughout. Michigan State has now won six straight games since falling to No. 19 North Carolina at home on December 4. It hosts No. 3 Ohio State on Tuesday.

- In its first conference game as a member of the ACC, No. 2 Syracuse rallied to beat Miami 49-44. The Hurricanes led by six points midway through the second half, as Syracuse went without a made field goal for nearly nine minutes after the break. Forward C.J. Fair, who scored 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting, and point guard Tyler Ennis (10 points, seven assists) made a couple of key buckets down the stretch to save the Orange from what would have been a shocking loss. Syracuse will play at Virginia Tech on Tuesday before hosting North Carolina four days later.

- No. 13 Iowa State extended its winning streak to a program record-tying 13 games when it beat Texas Tech in Lubbock on Saturday. The Red Raiders tied the game midway through the second half, but the Cyclones--– led by 16 and 17 points, respectively, from forwards Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang -- pulled away down the stretch. For the Iowa State, this was a nice tune-up before it enters a brutal stretch of games: No. 9 Baylor (Jan. 7), at 12-2 Oklahoma (Jan. 11), No. 16 Kansas (Jan. 13), at 11-3 Texas, 10-3 Kansas State (Jan. 25) and at the Jayhawks (Jan. 29).

- St. John’s fell to 0-2 in Big East play Saturday when it lost at Georgetown 77-60. Hoyas guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera poured in a game-high 31 points and grabbed six rebounds. Georgetown can extend its winning streak to four games (and its conference winning streak to three games) if it wins at Providence on Wednesday. The Red Storm is in danger of falling to 0-3 in conference play; it hosts no. 11 Villanova next Saturday.

- Top-ranked Arizona overcame a two-point halftime deficit at home to beat Washington 71-62. Guard Nick Johnson paced the Wildcats with 24 points, forward Aaron Gordon scored 18 and grabbed 11 rebounds and point guard T.J. McConnell had four steals, five rebounds and six assists. At 15-0, the Wildcats are off to their best start in more than 80 years. They face a tough game at UCLA on Thursday.

- Ohio State had no trouble dealing with Nebraska at Value City Arena on Saturday. Five Buckeyes scored in double figures in their 84-53 demolition of the Huskers. Tim Miles’ team will likely finish near or at the bottom of the Big Ten this season, so this game doesn’t really say much about the undefeated Buckeyes. Ohio State will need to be ready when it faces Michigan State on Tuesday in East Lansing.

- On New Year’s Eve, Illinois needed overtime to edge Indiana by three points. Saturday’s game against Penn State wasn’t nearly as competitive. The Illini crushed the Nittany Lions, 75-55, to move to 2-0 in Big Ten play. Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice (19.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg) played well again, scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds, while guard Tracy Abrams scored 12 points, snatched six boards and passed for five assists. Illini guard Kendrick Nunn and Penn State guard D.J. Newbill nearly came to blows midway through the second half. Illinois will face its first big test in conference play when it takes on no. 4 Wisconsin in Madison on Wednesday.

- In the preseason, Virginia was projected to compete with North Carolina, Duke and Syracuse for a top-three spot in the ACC standings. The Cavaliers have mostly failed to live up to expectations so far this season, having lost game to VCU, no. 8 Wisconsin, Green Bay and at Tennessee. But they picked up a nice win in their ACC-opener Saturday at Florida State (62-50). Guard Justin Anderson scored 16 points to help the Cavaliers overcome the loss of senior Joe Harris to an injury less than three minutes into the game. Virginia hosts Wake Forest on Wednesday before taking on NC State in Raleigh next Saturday.

- Through the first two months of the season, as Maryland suffered losses at home to Oregon State, George Washington and Boston University, one thing seemed certain: the Terrapins needed point sophomore point guard Seth Allen. Allen, who played his first game Sunday against Tulsa after missing time due to a broken foot, has given the Terrapins a spark over their past three games, including Saturday’s 77-61 win over Georgia Tech. Allen scored 10 points in 20 minutes to propel Maryland to a 2-0 ACC record. Allen will need to be at his best Monday, when the Terrapins face Pittsburgh at the Petersen Events Center.

- Dayton forward Devin Oliver, who scored 26 points, banked in a three with 0.3 seconds remaining in overtime to beat Ole Miss in Oxford:

Via Youtube user Dayton Flyers

- Despite some less-than-ideal three-point shooting (26.3 percent), Florida rallied in the second half to beat Richmond 67-58 in Gainesville on Saturday. Guard Michael Frazier II scored a team-high 18 points, and forward Casey Prather added 12 points and seven rebounds. It could be a while before the Gators are tested in SEC play. The next ranked opponent they face is no. 25 Missouri on February 4.

- After nearly knocking off Villanova at home on New Year’s Eve, Butler lost its first Big East road game at Xavier on Saturday. Musketeers guard Semaj Christon scored 20 points and had eight assists, while center Matt Stainbrook went for 17 points and seven rebounds. Xavier has now won seven consecutive games, including five in a row over power conference teams (Cincinnati, Alabama, Wake Forest, Saint John’s, Butler). It hosts Marquette on Thursday.

- Doug McDermott scored 30 points on 12-of-23 shooting, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out five assists to lead Creighton to a 79-66 win at Seton Hall in its first Big East road game. McDermott had made 45 consecutive free throws before missing one in the second half on Saturday. The Bluejays last lost on December 1, on a neutral court to George Washington. They will face likely conference bottom-feeder DePaul in Rosemont, Ill. on Tuesday.

- Rutgers played Louisville tough on Saturday, but the Cardinals emerged with their second ACC road win, 83-76 (they won at Central Florida on New Year’s Eve). Guard Russ Smith scored 22 points and went 14-of-16 from the free throw line, while forward Luke Hancock and guard Terry Rozier combined for 29 points off the bench. The Cardinals host Memphis on Thursday.

- No. 23 UMass completed its non-conference season Saturday by beating Miami of Ohio 73-65. Minutemen point guard Chaz Williams had 18 points and eight assists, while center Cady LaLanne put in some good work on the low block, connecting on five of his eight two-point field goal attempts for 12 points and snatching six rebounds. According to hoop-math.com, 84.3 percent of LaLanne’s field goal attempts have come at the rim this season. UMass will need LaLanne and Williams to keep playing well through Atlantic 10 play, which begins Wednesday for the Minutemen with a home meeting with Saint Joseph’s.

- How good is Oklahoma? That’s the question everybody wanted an answer to – that everybody still wants an answer to after the Sooners won at Texas, 88-85, on Saturday. The Sooners lost the one truly challenging game – a neutral court tilt against Michigan State – they faced on their weak non-conference schedule (in addition to a home loss in overtime to Louisiana Tech). But a win over Texas, who ranks no. 36 in the country in defensive efficiency and had lost at home only once this season, is nothing to overlook. It’s still unclear whether Lon Kruger’s team is good enough to earn an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, but we should get a better idea when it hosts Kansas on Wednesday.

- It’s hard to tell whether anyone will challenge No. 24 Gonzaga for the West Coast Conference title this season, but this much is clear: that team, should it emerge, will need to play better against the Zags than the four teams they have faced in conference play to date. Mark Few’s team pounded Pacific on Saturday, 86-64, to move to 4-0 in WCC play. Gonzaga, whose conference wins have come by an average of 21.5 points, faces three consecutive road games beginning with a trip to Portland on Thursday.

-- Outside of No. 15 Kentucky, No. 25 Missouri, and Florida, teams in the SEC with NCAA Tournament potential are hard to find. LSU might be one of them. At least, that seemed to be the case before it lost to Rhode Island, 74-70, at home on Saturday. Johnny Jones’ team needs to bounce back quickly for a home game against Tennessee on Tuesday.

- Guard Tre' Coggins scored 20 points to help Air Force deal UNLV its fourth home loss of the season 75-68. The Falcons (8-5) struggled in non-conference play, losing games to Colorado, Richmond, Virginia Military Institute, Jackson State and UC Davis, but they've beaten Utah State and the Rebels to open Mountain West play. Next up for Air Force is a road trip to Fresno State before a home date with no. 21 San Diego State on Jan. 12.

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