"He [Selby] bailed us out, he saved us - he doesn't know what he is doing out there, but he still comes away with 21 points and was our best offensive player," said Coach Self of his freshman. "I'm happy for him, and we played like we practiced - and we haven't practiced well of late - but we did play with some energy. It's nice to have a guy who wants the ball in that kind of situation, and it is nice to know that (Selby) is that kind of player."
That's the difference many expected Selby to have once eligible, but few could have predicted that his number would be called in his first game. USC, who was working Fordham transfer Jio Fontan into the fold, struggled in the first half as they shot just 29.2% from the field and their reserves were outscored 20-3. Fontan scored 15 points for the game but had five turnovers to go with a pair of assists, and Donte Smith led four Trojans in double figures with 20 off the bench. USC isn't a deep team by any stretch of the imagination and when faced with an opponent the caliber of Kansas, Kevin O'Neill's team will have a tough time winning when Bryce and Maurice Jones (not related) combine to shoot 0-for-9 from the field. USC did a far better job in the second half of getting Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson quality opportunities to score, and as a result USC shot 59.3% from the field and scored 48 points in the final twenty minutes.
"We were a little off kilter the first half. It was hard for Jio (Fontan) coming back," said Coach O'Neill. "We didn't have a lot of rhythm in the first half, but the second half we did a better job getting the ball into Nick (Nikola Vucevic). We also had some good performances from our other guys."
But while USC may have shown some glimpses of a team that could round into a top four team in the Pac-10, Saturday was about the addition of Selby to a team that's already a Final Four contender. The freshman had some hiccups, turning the ball over four times, but as he gets more comfortable with his teammates in game situations his role will expand. Josh is the one player in the Kansas backcourt rotation who can pressure defenses with his ability to make plays, an attribute that will come in handy when things break down late in the shot clock as well at the end of games. But does this push Kansas ahead of Duke in terms of the favorite to win the national title?
Not so fast, even with Kyrie Irving possibly out for the remainder of the season for the Blue Devils. Neither of the Morris twins, both of whom finished with 11 points, shot well from the field and the same goes for Tyshawn Taylor (2-7 FG, 7 points, 6 turnovers). But this team has depth, even with Mario Little indefinitely suspended, meaning that they have a lot of doors to open when looking for solutions and that will serve them well as the season wears on.
*Quotes courtesy of University of Kansas Athletics*
Other Key Happenings
1. What should we make of Illinois right now?
While this question may not be as intensive for Bruce Weber's team as it may be for a Tennessee squad that lost to Oakland and Charlotte this week, it's definitely one to discuss given the Illini's sluggish start against UIC at the United Center. But while a second-half surge put Illinois up eight in the second half all it did was delay the inevitable as Darrin Williams (a somewhat ironic situation given the role Deron Williams played in Illinois basketball history) made big plays down the stretch to give UIC the 57-54 win. Williams scored five points in the final 1:10 of the game while Robo Kreps led the Flames with 15 points, and Illinois shot just 32.7% from the field (4-for-17 from three) in dropping to 10-2 on the season.
The one question some have had about Illinois in regards to whether or not they can win the Big Ten involved mental focus because with players such as Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale and so on, the talent and experience is most certainly there. But to go into the first media timeout down 14-5 to a team you should beat isn't the best way to go about taking care of business. In the second half Illinois attempted 29 field goals to UIC's 17, but they made just nine shots to UIC's eight. That didn't get the job done on Saturday, nor will it once the Illini get into Big Ten play and take on the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin just to name three of the expected contenders. Keep an eye on Illinois' energy early in the "Braggin' Rights" game vs. Missouri next week.
2. Texas picks up the win over North Carolina in Greensboro.
While Texas does have a win over Illinois and a good showing against Pitt on its resume Rick Barnes' team also has a listless effort at USC to claim as well, meaning that Saturday's game against North Carolina was an important one. The same can be said for the Tar Heels, who have a 1-2 showing in Puerto Rico and a beating at Illinois on their resume to date. So when Cory Joseph knocked down a tough turnaround jumper from the top of the key with 1.4 seconds remaining the Longhorns had a solid "neutral" court victory against a team showing signs of getting better. Joseph scored 21 points while Jordan Hamilton led the Longhorns with 24 points in one of his most composed offensive performances. The sophomore from Los Angeles can most certainly knock down shots, but when he's taking quality shots Hamilton (and by extension Texas) become that much more dangerous.
North Carolina got into trouble early in the first half as Texas went on a 15-4 run over a five minute stretch to go up 26-16 with 8:30 to go in the half. But thanks to their bench, especially freshman point guard Kendall Marshall, UNC worked their way back into the lead 33-32 at the half. In comparing Marshall and incumbent Larry Drew II it was the freshman who played better against Texas in ten fewer minutes of action. Four Tar Heels finished in double figures with Dexter Strickland's 18 leading the way but the game came down to who could make the final play and that was Joseph. Texas has the talent to be a contender in the Big 12 as they're deep at just about every position on the floor, but they'll need to continue to make sound decisions with the basketball if they're to fulfill that promise. Saturday's win could be a springboard of sorts for this young group.
3. No Steven Gray no matter for Gonzaga, who grabs a big win over (9) Baylor in Dallas.
If you were told that Steven Gray (back spasms) and Elias Harris (fouled out) would combine to score ten points against a Top 10 team, chances are the conclusion would be that Mark Few's team gets blown out. But a Kelly Olynyk three-pointer with 1:46 remaining put the Zags up for good, and Robert Sacre's 17 points led the way in a 68-64 victory in Dallas. And in a crucial development for Gonzaga the bench came up big, outscoring Baylor's reserves 32-6 with Marquise Carter (12 points), Sam Dower (10 points) and Olynyk (7 points) leading the way. "Credit Gonzaga for really coming up big [and] hitting shots," said Baylor head coach Scott Drew. "I think you look at Carter, the two big 3s and [Olynyk] hitting his big three those were the differences in the game."
Perry Jones III led Baylor with 19 points but when you have an assist-to-turnover ratio of five assists to seventeen turnovers you're going to get into trouble even if Gonzaga can convert those miscues into only six points. Baylor made just two of twelve from beyond the arc and shot 36.7% from the field for the game, two areas that helped nullify 33 free throws (26 made). But this one is all about Gonzaga, a team that entered the game without a marquee victory to their credit and needed something to hang their hat on as 2010 comes to a close. And with their best non-conference games remaining likely being Xavier at the end of this month and Memphis in early February this may have been their lone shot to pick up a win against a team expected to be in the Final Four conversation come March. If the ancillary parts like Carter, Dower and Olynyk can continue to produce look for Gonzaga to approach the level we're accustomed to seeing them perform at.
*quote courtesy of Baylor Athletics*
Top Three Games
1. St. Bonaventure 112, Ohio 107 (4 OT) A wild one took place in Olean on Saturday afternoon as the Bonnies held off the Bobcats. Andrew Nicholson led all scorers with 44 points and 12 rebounds while Ohio's D.J. Cooper countered with 43 points, 13 assists, eight rebounds and eight steals.
2. (22) Texas 78, North Carolina 76
3. (3) Kansas 70, USC 68
Three Notable Performances
1. G D.J. Cooper (Ohio) and C Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure) See above.
2. F Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) The freshman could be well on his way to All-America status, going for 30 points and 19 rebounds in the Buckeyes' 79-57 win over South Carolina.
3. F Mike Glover (Iona) 25 points and 16 rebounds in the Gaels' 83-77 loss at (5) Syracuse, Glover's sixth consecutive double-double.