Knockout Game? Louisville 82, Connecticut 69. Ok, it’s too early to start talking about knockout games in any serious manner, but we shouldn’t gloss over the fact that this game was very important for both of these teams. Louisville came into tonight’s game having lost four of five, and UConn had dropped five of seven, as both Big East powerhouses were facing uphill climbs to get back into the NCAA Tournament picture this year. Tonight Louisville managed to keep hope alive by moving to 5-4 in the Big East with a convincing win over the Jim Calhoun-less Huskies. Edgar Sosa led Louisville with 15/3/8 assts in one of his better performances of the year, as he set his season high in dimes and also continued his consecutive games streak with multiple threes (Sosa hit two tonight, the eighth game in a row he’s hit at least that many). Three other UL starters hit double-figures tonight, and the Cards hit the halfway point of the Big East schedule with a reasonable shot at getting to ten wins and the commensurate expectation of an NCAA Tournament berth. We’re not sold on the long-term viability of this Cardinal team, but they can probably win enough games to get back to the Dance this year. As for UConn, where to begin? The good news is that the Huskies have played one of the top schedules in the nation so far; the bad news is that they have one quality win (Texas). Wins over Harvard and William & Mary and Notre Dame are nice, but they alone won’t get you into the Tournament. Eventually UConn is going to have to win another marquee game, and they’ll have at least four more chances to do so (home games against WVU and Louisville; road games versus Syracuse and Villanova). Tonight was more of the same for the Huskies, as the last two games have been their worst defensive performances of the season, allowing 1.16 points per possession vs. Louisville and 1.04 against Marquette on Saturday. This is especially disconcerting given that the UConn defense has been the primary reason they’ve avoided a complete disaster — it’s the offense that has struggled. The Husky offense shot 38% from the field, hit only four threes and committed 17 turnovers, and those kinds of numbers have to improve if UConn expects to earn its first true road win sometime this season. Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker, in particular, continue to have trouble putting the ball in the basket, combining for 11-32 tonight — only a little worse than their season average of ~41%. We realize that Jim Calhoun IS UConn basketball, but we’re not sure that he can turn things around when he does return later this season. Winning just the home games will get the Huskies to 7-11 in the Big East, and that means late road games against Rutgers, Notre Dame and USF are extremely important this year.
Jordan Hamilton Says Hello. #10 Texas 72, Oklahoma State 60. This game was a tale of two halves in Stillwater tonight. At halftime, OSU looked the more aggressive team and had built as much as an eleven-point lead behind the habanero-like shooting of James Anderson (8-9 FGs for 24 points in the first half). Texas managed to crawl back within four at the break, and the ensuing half belonged to the Longhorns. Rick Barnes’ defense held the scorching Anderson to 2-9 shooting and four points for the rest of the game, and in the meantime, may have found a new offensive option on their own team in the form of Jordan Hamilton. The freshman from LA came into the game averaging less than 8 PPG, but he made the most of his minutes tonight, drilling five threes and hitting 11-16 FGs for a career-high 27/4. Eighteen of those points came in the second half, including an 11-point burst in the middle of the half that gave Texas the lead for good. The core of the UT lineup is experienced, with Damion James, Dexter Pittman, Justin Mason, Dogus Balbay and Gary Johnson all juniors or seniors, but the offensive production that Rick Barnes gets from the talented freshman trio of Hamilton, Avery Bradley and J’Covan Brown will ultimately decide how far the Horns will go this season. The firepower that those three bring to the table surpasses all but what Damion James can do on a regular basis — Coach Barnes would be wise to unleash their talents a little more as his team heads into the stretch run of the Big 12 regular season race still only two back of #1 Kansas in the standings.
Other Games of National Interest.
Is none an acceptable answer? We’ll be back tomorrow with a fuller slate of games.