When the NCAA tournament selection committee evaluates Texas' resume in March, it may have to give the Longhorns extra credit for their hot start. Not only are they 6-0, but they have now won three straight games without star point guard Isaiah Taylor, including an impressive win on a neutral court against Cal on Nov. 21 and, on Sunday, a buzzer-beating win at No. 24 Connecticut in a true road game.
Taylor, who is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a broken left wrist that reportedly will not need surgery, has been Texas' leading scorer this season at 15.0 points per game. Senior forward Jonathan Holmes is next at roughly 13 points per game, and he matched that figure with a team-high total against the Huskies. The last three of those points came on the game-winning shot, when he slipped to the corner and buried a three-pointer with 2.2 seconds remaining that gave the No. 7 Longhorns a 55-54 win over the defending national champions in Storrs.
The Huskies had ripped off an 11-1 run midway through the second half to take a 47-42 lead, and they still led 51-45 with 6:12 remaining. But UConn didn't score again until there were just 26 seconds left, when Ryan Boatright hit two free throws for a 53-50 lead. Texas' Javan Felix made a layup to cut the deficit to one before Boatright split a pair at the line for a 54-52 lead with 15 seconds to play. After a timeout, Holmes drilled the game-winning shot and the Huskies couldn't get off one of their own before the buzzer sounded.
Boatright paced UConn with 24 points, including the Huskies’ final seven, but he suffered an ankle injury on the final play. The senior point guard, who is averaging more than 20 points per game, was seen on crutches afterward and is reportedly set to undergo an x-ray on Monday.
"(Boatright) was limping pretty bad," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said afterward, according to CBSSports.com. "We'll see. We'll assess him. We have a great medical staff that'll get him better, and Ryan is very meticulous about his body so he's going to get in and do rehab. He hates missing practice, so that's one guy I'm not worried about wanting to get back on the court."
Taylor, meanwhile, may not be back on the court until Texas' Jan. 3 Big 12 opener against Texas Tech. Until then, the Longhorns will play at Kentucky on Dec. 5 and host Stanford on Dec. 23. For as impressive as Texas has looked without Taylor, it could struggle to win both of those games – the former in particular – without its backcourt anchor.
The good news for the Longhorns is that the committee will take Taylor’s injury into consideration for both its wins and its losses. A road defeat to the No. 1 team in the country isn’t a huge demerit in any scenario. But if Texas were to lose to the Cardinal or another of its opponents in the coming weeks (UT-Arlington, Texas State, Lipscomb, Long Beach State and Rice) the Longhorns probably won’t be penalized as much as they would if they were at full strength.
Texas' talent and early success suggests that if it can integrate Taylor after he returns without any issues, it will have to be considered a threat to Kansas' decade-long run of Big 12 regular season titles.
No. 1 Kentucky 58, Providence 38
Texas figures to offer a tougher test for the nation's No. 1 team than what the Wildcats got from Providence on Sunday. Despite leading by just one point early in the second half, Kentucky was never in serious danger and routed the Friars, who made just 4-of-24 from the floor after halftime. Kentucky big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein both notched 11 points and six rebounds, but the rest of the Wildcats’ starting five (Alex Poythress, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison) managed only 18 points combined, and Kentucky made just 2-of-7 from three-point range. The Longhorns aren't the only challenge before the new year for the 'Cats, who also have games with North Carolina, UCLA and Louisville in December.
No. 11 Kansas 61, No. 20 Michigan State 56
When Kansas was blown out by Kentucky at the Champions Classic earlier this month, Bill Self was so ready to put game behind him that he hoped for something a little stronger than water at the postgame press conference. While most considered Kentucky’s 72-40 win more a reflection of the Wildcats’ dominance than the Jayhawks’ shortcomings, it’s not hard to imagine why some doubts began to creep in about Self’s team.
But since that loss, Kansas has gone 4-0 with wins over power conference foes Tennessee and Michigan State and a Rhode Island team that had beaten Nebraska, a potential Big Ten contender. In Sunday’s victory over the Spartans in the championship game of the Orlando Classic, the Jayhawks got 17 points from junior forward Perry Ellis and 11 from freshman guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk while limiting Michigan State to 32.2 percent shooting.
Kansas will have several more opportunities to add signature wins before opening its Big 12 schedule on Jan. 7. After hosting No. 18 Florida in the Big 12/SEC challenge on Dec. 5, the Jayhawks play at Georgetown on Dec. 10 and also have games against Utah, Temple and UNLV.
In the Blue Devils' final tuneup before playing at No. 2 Wisconsin on Wednesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, head coach Mike Krzyzewski's team cruised to an easy win against his alma mater. Freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones combined for 37 points on 12-of-22 shooting and junior Rasheed Sulaimon provided 13 points off the bench. It was the 990th win of Coach K’s career, the first 73 of which came as Army's head coach from 1975-80.