College Hoops Monday Recap: Blue Devils, Wildcats Advance

    
November 23rd, 2010
Looking at the semifinals of the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic on paper many expected Duke and Kansas State to advance to Tuesday's title game, and they took care of business at the Spirit Center in Kansas City. But while the Wildcats had some perimeter shooters other than the explosive Jacob Pullen step up in their 81-64 whipping of Gonzaga, Duke had to rely on a change from last season's title team to get past Marquette. One of the chief influences on the national title run made by head coach Mike Krzyzewski's team was the "dirty work" nature of big men Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek, two players who didn't score a whole lot but they did all the little things that turn good teams into champions. Monday night provided a glimpse at the added dimension that this year's team has inside, and that would be sophomore forward Mason Plumlee.

Plumlee missed the first part of last season with a wrist injury, essentially stunting his progress similar to the way in which a back injury prevented UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt from taking off (both showed flashes last season but the full offseason to recuperate has done wonders). Mason scored 12 of his game-high 25 points in the final 8:47 of the game to help the Blue Devils hold off the hard-charging Golden Eagles, who had no way of slowing him down in losing 82-77. "Of course as a player you always want the ball," said Plumlee, who also had 12 rebounds and three assists. "I just wanted to stay within the plays and take the opportunities that come my way. My teammates did a good job of hitting me." On a weekend that saw Christian Laettner inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame it was fitting that a Duke forward made the difference.

As for Kansas State they blitzed a Gonzaga team playing with a less than full strength Elias Harris with a 10-2 run to start the game, and then held off a Bulldog rally before pulling away for good early in the second half. Jacob Pullen led the way with 18 points (4-8 3PT) and as a team Kansas State shot 46.2% (12 for 26) from beyond the arc while outrebounding the Bulldogs 37-24. Robert Sacre (17 points) and Steven Gray (15) were Gonzaga's only double-figure scorers on a night where they shot 33.3% from the field and 3-for-13 from three-point range. The Wildcat big men, who welcomed Curtis Kelly back into the fold, weren't great but they made Sacre work and with a little help from guard Rodney McGruder (game-high nine rebounds) controlled the glass throughout. They'll need more from the likes of Wally Judge and Freddy Asprilla on Tuesday but Frank Martin's club has more than enough to grab the CBE Classic title.

Other Notable Happenings
1. Old Dominion wins the Paradise Jam.
Just one day after Tu Holloway lit up Seton Hall to the tune of 31 points he ran out of gas thanks in large part to the perimeter defense of Blaine Taylor's Monarchs, who knocked off Xavier 67-58 in the finals of the USVI Paradise Jam. Trian Iliadis scored 12 points off the bench while Frank Hassell led the way for ODU with 16 points and eight rebounds but it was rebounding and defense that got the job done. Old Dominion finished the game a plus-10 (33-23) in rebounding margin and limited Xavier to just four three pointers in twenty attempts on the night. Holloway led the Musketeers with 14 points (as did Mark Lyons) but he made just three of ten shots and turned the ball over six times in Xavier's first loss of the season. Keep an eye on the Monarchs, who are the preseason favorites to win the CAA, as they return home for a holiday break before hosting Richmond on December 1st. While their three wins in the Virgin Islands (Saint Peter's, Clemson and Xavier) may have a negligible impact on their computer numbers they should definitely serve notice that this is a team capable of duplicating its NCAA showing of a season ago.

2. Kemba Walker catches fire in the second half and leads UConn past Wichita State.
Head coach Jim Calhoun will need Kemba Walker to be a superstar this season if the Huskies are to get back to the NCAA Tournament, so it did him little good to see his point guard on the bench for 16 minutes of the first half against Wichita State. But the junior from the Bronx made up for lost time in the second half, scoring 29 of his 31 points (14-15 FT) in the Huskies' 83-79 win over the preseason favorite to win the Missouri Valley. But credit should also be given to the youngsters who had to step up to keep the Huskies afloat while their leader was on the bench. Jeremy Lamb grabbed a team-best eight rebounds while Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith scored 10 points apiece off the bench. Next up for UConn is Michigan State, who struggled with Chaminade before establishing themselves late in the second half in a less than dominant performance. Walker must stay on the floor against the Spartans, and as he showed on Monday when he's out there he can put on quite the show.

3. Fans in Reno and Winston-Salem could be in for a long season.
Nevada (replacing four starters) and Wake Forest (replacing many key contributors and playing under a new head coach in Jeff Bzdelik) were expected to struggle this season. But what they've gone through thus far may be a bit much, as Nevada fell to George Washington 58-56 and the Demon Deacons lost to Winthrop 83-74. Which outcome spells more doom? That's may be Nevada's loss (even though it came at GW) given the fact that the Colonials have consistently been in the bottom half of the Atlantic 10 the last few years. Dario Hunt led the way with 16 points but David Carter's team can ill-afford 0-for-11 nights from Deonte Burton if they're to remain in the top half of the WAC. Wake Forest's issues are on the defensive end, where they allowed Winthrop to shoot 51.6% from the field and 6-for-11 from deep, but augmenting defensive strategies may be easier than finding consistent scorers. Keep an eye on both of these teams as they could be in for a long season.

Top Three Games
1. Connecticut 83, Wichita State 79
2. Duke 82, Marquette 77
3. Grambling St. 77, Southeast Missouri State 76 (OT) Stinks to see games decided by foul calls in the final seconds but that's all the Tigers needed to survive on the road for their first win of the season. Justin Patton led the way with 28 points, 12 rebounds and five assists and Raschard Boatner's free throw with two seconds remaining provided the final margin. The Redhawks, who were down 12 points at the under-4 timeout, were led by Leon Powell (18 points) and Anthony Allison (16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists).

Three Notable Performances
1. G Kemba Walker (Connecticut) 29 of his game-high 31 points came in the second half of the Huskies' win over Wichita State in the first Maui Invitational quarterfinal.
2. F Terrence Jones (Kentucky) 29 points, 13 rebounds and three assists in the Wildcats' 76-64 win over Oklahoma.
3. F Mason Plumlee (Duke) 25 points, 12 rebounds and three assists in the Blue Devils' win over Marquette.