Davis Leads #1 Kentucky Past Vanderbilt: Saturday's Quick Hitters

    
February 25th, 2012

#4 Kansas clinched their eighth consecutive Big 12 title with a wild 87-86 overtime win over #3 Missouri, placing head coach Bill Self in some esteemed company. Here are today's "Quick Hitters": 

1. #1 Kentucky wraps up another SEC title with a win over Vanderbilt.
In what has been a superlative season for freshman Anthony Davis, the Chicago native may have saved his best performance (thus far) for Saturday. Davis made ten of his eleven shots from the field and scored 28 points while also grabbing 11 boards and blocking six shots to lead Kentucky to an 83-74 win over Vanderbilt. The victory also locked up the 45th SEC title in program history, and it's been clear that there's a lot more this group can achieve before this season ends. Jeffery Taylor scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead Vanderbilt, who may have enough to hang around longer than they have in recent NCAA appearances when that time comes.

But on this day it was about the impact of Davis on an afternoon that saw Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (eight points, eight rebounds) and Terrence Jones (12 points, six rebounds) play 29 and 23 minutes respectively. Vandy may have out scored Kentucky 21-6 from beyond the arc but they also made just 42.2% of their shots inside of the arc, and going 15-for-23 from the foul line doesn't help on the road either.

Marquis Teague got off to a slow start but he got going as the game wore on, finishing with 15 points and six assists, and Darius Miller scored nine points off the bench. Kentucky won with two starters in foul trouble and a third (Doron Lamb) scoring just seven points. That lack of production is not going to happen very often between now and the end of the season, so good luck to all future opponents. 

2. With #21 New Mexico completing an 0-2 week the Mountain West title is once again up for grabs.
After wins over San Diego State and UNLV last week Steve Alford's Lobos were undoubtedly the class of the Mountain West. But after losses to Colorado State and TCU, New Mexico is back in a three-way tie for first with the Aztecs and Runnin' Rebels going into the last week of regular season play. After going to the half tied (38-all) New Mexico was outscored 45-26 by the Horned Frogs in the 83-64 beating, moving TCU to a surprising 7-5 in conference play and 6-0 in league home games. J.R. Cadot led six TCU players in double figures with 15 points while also grabbing ten rebounds and point guard Hank Thorns dished out nine assists to go along with his 14 points, and a team few expected to contend remains alive in the Mountain West title race. 

UNLV was able to hold off a pesky Air Force squad in Las Vegas, winning 68-58 with Chace Stanback's 21 points and eight rebounds leading the way, and San Diego State held off Colorado State 74-66. Jamaal Franklin, who's been banged up of late, went off for 31 points and 16 rebounds to lead the way. With all three teams at 8-4 having played each other twice the Mountain West race will be decided by how they all do against the rest of the conference (the three-way tie at this point would be broken by record vs. the fourth place team).

Before this week the Lobos were the ones who hadn't slipped up, but obviously that's changed. Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams need to be consistent if New Mexico is to win the MWC but at this point anything can happen, and given how dangerous the likes of TCU, Colorado State and Wyoming have played it probably will.   

3. Gonzaga's 11-year reign atop the WCC ends as Saint Mary's clinches the WCC title.
While Kansas' current streak of eight straight Big 12 titles is nothing to scoff at, Gonzaga had won 11 straight West Coast Conference titles heading into this season. But that streak came to an end on Saturday night as Saint Mary's beat San Francisco 67-60, wrapping up the regular season title for the Gaels. It wasn't a pretty effort for Randy Bennett's team as they shot just 6-for-28 from beyond the arc, but Saint Mary's made the plays they needed to make down the stretch.

Clint Steindl, who entered the starting lineup with Stephen Holt out with a knee inury, scored a team-high 16 points while Matthew Dellavedova and Rob Jones (14 rebounds) scored 14 points apiece. Jones wasn't the only Gael to post a double-double either as Brad Waldow, who has emerged as the Gaels' second-best interior player in WCC play, scored ten points and grabbed 12 rebounds. 

Saint Mary's and Gonzaga wrapped up byes to the semifinals of next weekend's WCC tournament with the results while BYU and Loyola Marymount receive byes to the quarters as the third and fourth seeds. One would think that the top three teams are all safely into the Field of 68 at this point, and Max Good's Lions have the ability to run through the conference tournament and get the WCC a fourth NCAA bid.

Gonzaga's run atop the WCC may have ended but by no means is this "the end", in regards to both this season as well as the future. Players such as Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell and Guy Landry Edi will all have an impact for the Zags (and Kelly Olynyk will be back in the fold next season), and they'll need to if Mark Few's team is to make some noise next month.

4. #2 Syracuse wraps up the tenth Big East regular season title in school history with a win at UConn.
Jim Boeheim's team was walking into what was sure to be a charged environment, given the "ESPN College Gameday" presence and Connecticut's need for a marquee win. And even though things got tight down the stretch Syracuse was able to pick up their first-ever win at Gampel Pavilion, winning 71-69 with C.J. Fair blocking a Roscoe Smith shot in the final seconds to preserve the lead.

The concerns about rebounding going into the game given the Huskies' size inside? No issue for the Orange, who out-rebounded the Huskies 39-35 and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds (UConn finished with 15 but was outscored 16-14 in second-chance points) on the night.Fab Melo's follow-up dunk with 31 seconds remaining gave Syracuse, who led by as many as 17 points, the victory but it was Kris Joseph and their reserves who stood out. 

Joseph scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds as he bounced back from a 5-for-17 night in Syracuse's win over USF on Wednesday night. As for the reserves once again Syracuse showed that they're the deepest team in America. Dion Waiters led the way with ten points while Fair (six points, seven rebounds) and James Southerland (seven points) also made an impact. The Orange reserves outscored the UConn bench 26-0 on the night, allowing Syracuse to successfully navigate a quiet night from Brandon Triche (18 minutes played) and Scoop Jardine shooting 3-for-10 from the field (seven points, six assists).

With something of consequence from Shabazz Napier or Tyler Olander off the bench UConn would have had an even better shot of winning, and that's going to be the key in their games against Providence and Pittsburgh. Gain some consistency and the Huskies have the ability to be a tough out in the Big Dance, and while their close loss showed UConn's potential it also showed the difference between a team that can win games and one that can win a championship. 

5. Northwestern and Texas avoid what would have been bad losses while Seton Hall and NC State aren't as fortunate.
The focus for bubble teams this time of the year tends to be on the search for that "signature win", but just as important is the ability to avoid shooting oneself in the foot. Northwestern and Texas looked to be headed towards bad (or in the case of Texas, catastrophic) losses but both the Wildcats and Longhorns were able to pull out victories on the road.

John Shurna made a pair of free throws with 2.6 seconds remaining to give Northwestern a 67-66 win at Penn State (the foul should have been called on the catch before Shurna was ever fouled on his shot attempt). And in Lubbock it took seven points from J'Covan Brown in the final 2:16 of overtime for the Longhorns to beat Texas Tech 71-67, with Rick Barnes' team closing the game on a 10-0 run. 

Seton Hall and NC State weren't as fortunate, with the Pirates' slide commencing with Pope being called for an offensive foul (that many SHU fans vigorously disputed) with 44.1 seconds remaining in overtime and the score tied at 72. From there in-state rival Rutgers would score the final five points, exacting a measure of revenge on a team that beat them at the RAC in the first meeting this season. Jordan Theodore led the Pirates with 17 points and nine assists but it was Rutgers' Dane Miller (21 points, ten rebounds, four assists and three blocks) who stood out.

At least the Pirates are likely on the right side of the fence (or at least close to it) in spite of the loss. The same cannot be said for Mark Gottfried's Wolfpack, who seem to be freefall mode as they dropped their fourth straight game (72-69 at Clemson). Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie scored 18 points apiece to lead the Wolfpack but it wasn't enough as Scott Wood (1-6 FG) struggled and Milton Jennings led three Tigers in double figures with 17 points. The difference was the foul line, as NC State made five of thirteen and Clemson finished 16-for-21. While there are still games to be played there doesn't seem to be much sand left in the hourglass for NC State.   

Quick Hitters

1. From Friday night the Big East Player of the Year race may have received some clarity. With three starters (Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan and Darius Johnson-Odom) suspended for the first half of #10 Marquette's game at West Virginia and Todd Mayo suspended for the second, Jae Crowder did everything in his power to lead the Golden Eagles to the 61-60 win. Crowder finished with 26 points and four rebounds while outplaying WVU's Kevin Jones, who didn't receive a who lot of help down the stretch from his teammates. And while Buzz Williams' dancing received the bulk of the postgame attention, Bob Huggins' visible frustration with his team shouldn't be ignored either. 

2. There's now a tie atop the Ivy League in the loss column as Penn snapped Harvard's 28-game home win streak by the final score of 55-54. Zack Rosen's two free throws with 23 seconds remaining proved to be the difference for the Quakers, who are now 9-2 in league play (Harvard's 10-2). But don't start planning for a possible playoff just yet, as Jerome Allen's team still has games against Yale (home) and Princeton (road) to deal with. And if you haven't seen Rosen play by now...shame. 

3. Following Purdue's blowout loss to Michigan State forward Ryne Smith made the comment that the dismissal of Kelsey Barlow was "addition by subtraction." Smith may have been proven right on Saturday as the Boilermakers handed #13 Michigan their first home loss of the season by the final score of 75-61. Terone Johnson led the way with 22 points and Purdue enjoyed a stretch in the second half in which they scored on 11 of 13 possessions. That's how you cement your status as a tournament team.

4. Arizona and Washington both did what they needed to do on Saturday, escaping with wins against UCLA and Washington State respectively. Kyle Fogg led the Wildcats to the 65-63 win on Senior Day in Tucson with 20 points and nine rebounds, giving Arizona their 21st win of the season. Tony Wroten accounted for 21 points, six rebounds and five assists in Washington's 59-55 win at Washington State, a game the Huskies trailed 45-32 with 11 minutes remaining. It remains to be seen how many teams the Pac-12 can get into the tournament, but at this point the best strategy for both is to simply keep winning.  

5. Another interesting day in the Atlantic 10 as Saint Louis suffered a brutal loss for their resume while Dayton and Saint Joseph's picked up needed victories. Billy Baron's shot in the final seconds gave Rhode Island a 64-62 win over the Billikens in Kingston, but regardless of the venue that's a game Rick Majerus' team did not need on their resume as a loss. Langston Galloway led four Saint Joseph's players in double figures with 22 points as the Hawks beat #22 Temple 82-72 to earn a share of the Big 5 title, and Dayton blew out UMass 76-43 at home. Three seems to be the number of bids most expect the A-10 to receive, which makes games like these even more important down the stretch. 

6. Cleveland State finally looked like a cohesive group with D'Aundray Brown out of the lineup as they beat Wright State 77-55. Trevon Harmon scored 20 points and Jeremy Montgomery 17 for the Vikings, who locked up the two-seed in next week's Horizon League tournament. That earns them (along with regular season champ Valparaiso) a bye to the semifinals, a perk that was much-needed by the Vikings. 

7. Behind 31 points from Bradford Burgess, VCU was able to jump on George Mason early in what ended up being an 89-77 win in Richmond to grab the two-seed in the CAA tournament. VCU scored 12 points within a stretch of less than two minutes in the first half to establish a margin the Patriots were unable to overcome despite 24 points and nine rebounds from Ryan Pearson. These two could very well meet in the CAA semis next weekend, and a rubber match would have huge implications in regards to the NCAA tournament.  

8. The pace wasn't in their favor but #7 North Carolina found a way to win as they beat Virginia 54-51 in Charlottesville. Tyler Zeller scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds on the afternoon and John Henson added 15 and 11 with two blocked shots. Defensively the Tar Heels were able to keep Mike Scott in check, something they were unable to do in Chapel Hill. Scott shot just 3-for-13 from the field and scored six points for the Cavaliers, who shot 6-for-23 from beyond the arc. 

9. Fred Hoiberg's Iowa State Cyclones did themselves a favor from an NCAA tournament seeding standpoint with their 65-61 win at Kansas State, who was coming off of consecutive road wins at Baylor and Missouri. Scott Christopherson scored 29 points and Royce White added nine points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. The win also keeps the Cyclones tied with Baylor for third place, and they'll host the Bears in the regular season finale for both next weekend.

10. The Northeast Conference tournament, which begins on Thursday night, has the potential to be a wild event of Saturday's results are a harbinger of things to come. The top four seeds (who will host games on Thursday) all lost, including regular season champ LIU-Brooklyn getting pasted 106-78 at Monmouth, while seeds five through eight all won. King Rice's Hawks may be the hottest team entering the tournament as they've won seven of their last nine games, and Quinnipiac hasn't been bad either as they've won eight of their last eleven. LIU's the favorite with Wagner right behind them but don't be surprised if there's an upset along the way. 

11. Things got a bit wild in Huntington but that didn't deter Memphis, who whipped Marshall 87-67 to remain in first place in Conference USA. Will Barton scored 24 points, Joe Jackson 21 and Chris Crawford added 16 and eight assists to lead the Tigers, who have enough talent to give an opponent headaches in the Big Dance. Josh Pastner's team has been maddeningly inconsistent at times this season, but don't sleep on them.