Who Won The Week? Kentucky, Rayvonte Rice, and a Newbie Squad Led by a Former NBA SharpshooterPosted by Kenny Ocker on January 3rd, 2014
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.
After an unforeseen circumstance, some traveling and Christmas, welcome back to Who Won The Week? Let’s get down to business.
The nation’s top team on the offensive glass and at getting to the free throw line managed to net a home win over its in-state rival and defending national champion in their only game in two weeks. Not bad, right? Doing it without the services of super-freshman Julius Randle in the second half as he was sidelined by cramps makes it even more impressive. In his stead, fellow freshmen Andrew and Aaron Harrison and James Young combined for 46 points – after Randle had scored 17 points in the first half – as the Wildcats pulled off a 73-66 win in Lexington and picked up its first marquee non-conference win in the process. After missing out on neutral-court shots versus Michigan State and Baylor, notching a win against the top team in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings is a nice way to salvage a good non-conference schedule.
OK, so Russ Smith did this, to Julius Randle, no less.
But that wasn’t nearly enough for the Cardinals to top Kentucky, even including the services of starting forward Chane Behanan, who led his team with seven rebounds. And that luxury is now gone just in time for Louisville to start its lone season in the American Athletic Conference, as Behanan has been dismissed from the team after one too many off-the-court disciplinary issues. It’s a bad turn of events for the defending national champions, and makes losing to their hated rival an even more bitter pill to swallow. On the bright side for Pitino’s team, however, they started off conference play with a 90-65 win over Central Florida in Orlando. Montrezl Harrell, the main beneficiary of Behanan’s departure, had 15 points and eight rebounds in a team-high 31 minutes against the Knights on Tuesday, just three nights after having six points and four rebounds in 21 minutes against the Wildcats.
WINNER: Rayvonte Rice
The Drake transfer set season scoring highs in back-to-back games for Illinois as it had a second-half comeback win against Illinois-Chicago on Saturday and an overtime win over Indiana on Tuesday. In the 74-60 win against the Flames, the junior guard poured in 28 points while also grabbing seven rebounds and dishing three assists, and in the 83-80 overtime win against Indiana in Champaign, he scored 29, grabbed eight rebounds and had three steals. In each of Illinois’ 14 games this season, Rice has scored in double figures, including six 20-plus-point performances. He’s eighth in the nation in scoring efficiency for players using 24 percent or more of their team’s offensive possessions. As for the Illini, they’ve started their season at 12-2, and are 1-0 in the perpetually tough Big Ten thanks to their win over the Hoosiers.
Welcome to the American Athletic Conference. Here, have a bad loss. That’s the greeting the Huskies received from the fewer than 1,000 people in attendance New Year’s Eve who watched them lose on the road to Houston. UConn came into halftime down by 18 points, then came out with a fire under its backside, whittling that lead away to nothing within eight minutes, thanks mainly to the play of star guard Shabazz Napier, who finished with 27 points and nine rebounds, including 14 of his team’s first 19 in the second half. But when the Huskies could only score four points in the final three-plus minutes, the Cougars pounced. Guard Jherrod Stiggers had two field goals. Forward TaShawn Thomas made four of four free throws despite shooting just 55 percent from the line before the game. And then guard Tione Womack hit two free throws of his own to put the game out of reach with three seconds left, finishing at 75-71. That’s certainly not the start Kevin Ollie’s team wanted in the debut season of the American, especially given the lackadaisical first-half effort and the blown leads late. Losing to a team that lost to 4-7 San Jose State and a Texas A&M team that has lost four of its last six games could be a big bump in the road now, and an albatross come March.
WINNER: Grand Canyon
Dan Majerle’s Antelopes are the only undefeated team in the history of the WAC. They’re 1-0. The first-year transitional program at a for-profit university bested short-time conference rival Texas-Pan American (themselves a Division I nomad for more than a decade) 91-85 in Phoenix on Thursday night. The win is made all the more impressive when you consider that Majerle dismissed leading scorer Demetrius Walker (the flawed protagonist of George Dohrmann’s “Play Their Hearts Out”) and another player from the team last Friday for unspecified reasons. Senior center Killian Larson led his team against the Broncs with 26 points and 12 rebounds, his third straight 20-10 game of the season. The 6’9”, 268-pound pivot has 11 double-doubles this season. Both Larson’s 20-10 streak and Grand Canyon’s undefeated conference record are in jeopardy Saturday when WAC favorites New Mexico State come to town, led up front by 7’5” INCREDIBLY LARGE MAN Sim Bhullar and 6’11” power forward Tshilidzi Nephawe.
LOSER: Washington State
Keep in mind that the Cougars were without DaVonte Lacy, their score-everything guard, and fellow starter Dexter Kernich-Drew when you read the scoreboard beatdown top-ranked Arizona put on them Thursday night: 60-25. Granted, Washington State plays at a snail’s pace most games, but their offensive performance was as putrid as they get. Only one player, forward Junior Longrus, made more than one field goal; he had two. Longrus led his team in scoring with six points. Lacy, who is out after having his appendix removed last week, is in the top 10 nationally in scoring efficiency for players who use more than 24 percent of possessions and is among the nation’s most accurate shooters. Without him, an already-mediocre Cougars squad is incredibly vulnerable to prolonged scoring lapses, including an 11-minute field-goal drought to start the game against the Wildcats. Lacy may be back Saturday for the Cougars game against Arizona State (another loser candidate, given their forgettable performance against a Washington team that had arguably the Pac-12′s worst non-conference performance), but even with Lacy, Ken Bone’s team is a top candidate to be at the bottom of the conference this season.