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  • Kentucky Edges Wisconsin 74-73 to Advance to National Championship

    ARLINGTON-TX       Aaron Harrison has been known for hitting the clutch shot his entire basketball career growing up in Texas, but few could imagine just how much of a stone cold killer this freshman guard actually is when the game is on the line. For the third game in a row Harrison knocked down a go-ahead three-pointer to advance the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament. This time the stage was the biggest of them all: The Final Four in Dallas, Texas. This time the victim was Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin Badgers.   Kentucky battled throughout the game as Wisconsin never appeared worried about any sort of run that the Wildcats made. The play of James Young was crucial to the win, scoring a game high 17 points, and seemed to be in the right place at the right time when his teammates need him. Julius Randle continued to be a force in the paint on both the offensive and defensive end, scoring 16 points and grabbing 5 rebounds. Randle was forced to play defense on an two outstanding scorers in Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky throughout the contest, and played a huge role in holding the Kaminsky to 8 points. Aaron and Andrew Harrison continued their steady, yet relentless play on the offensive end with 8 and 9 points respectively. No bucket was bigger than Aaron’s shot to give the Wildcats the lead with 5 seconds remaining however.   Sophomore Alex Poythress provided a great spark when this team needed some energy to make runs. The sophomore has gone from starter last season, to role player this year and he has done so very well throughout the tournament. Poythress had 8 points in this contest to accompany 7 rebounds. He went 4-4 from the field, and no attempt was more impressive than a sensational poster dunk over top of two Wisconsin defenders. The “veteran” of this youthful squad of Wildcats seemed to be the one who stepped forward and led the team down the stretch to help gain the momentum that held of Bo Ryan’s Badgers.   Coach John Calipari has done what few (including myself) thought was possible by turning this team that finished the regular season losing 4 of their final 7 games, into a national title contender. The road to the National Championship has not been an easy one by any means, as the Wildcats are the first team in the history of the NCAA tournament to win 4 consecutive games by 5 points or less. The grit and determination of this team are an incredible reflection of the coaching that John Calipari has done to mold this group of blue chip stars into men, who seem to handle every tough situation thrown their way with unmatched poise.   The National Championship matchup slated for Monday is set to be the 7 seed from the East Region, the Connecticut Huskies, and the 8th seed from the Midwest Region, the Kentucky Wildcats. The Huskies are led by All-American guard Shabazz Napier and feature a bevy of quickness and athleticism from top to bottom. Two of college basketball’s powerhouse programs will go at it to determine who the best team in America is for the 2013-2014 season in front of what will be a huge crowd at AT&T Stadium. Neither team made it to the NCAA tournament last season, UK received a bid to the NIT, and Connecticut was ineligible to participate due to rules infractions. Pay no attention to the seeds next to the names of these two teams, they are both loaded with talent and have a mentality to win at all costs.   Calipari looks to add one more win to his NCAA leading 18 wins in the tournament since 2009, and none would be sweeter than number 19, and to hang his second National Championship banner in Rupp Arena.

    Austin Lyons



  • Cal’s Kids” Guide Wildcats to 16th Final Four

    • Lee rises to the Challenge

                With 10 seconds remaining in regulation, the Kentucky Wildcats were knotted up with the Michigan Wolverines 72-72. A team stocked full of freshmen found themselves on the brink of accomplishing something that no team has done since (coincidentally) Michigan’s “Fab Five”, and advancing to the final four with a team dominated completely by first year players. Aaron Harrison received the dribble handoff and earned himself a little bit of space behind the three-point line on the left side of the floor, and let it fly over the top of the outstretched arm of  Caris LeVert. As the ball fell through the net, everything in the regular season had been forgiven, the losses to Arkansas, the embarrassment that came when the Cats lost to South Carolina (14-20), and all was right within the Big Blue Nation once again. Nik Stauskas caught the ensuing inbounds pass at halfcourt and launched a desperation heave, missing right, and the jubilation on the Kentucky kid’s faces was nothing short of spectacular.

       

      As was the story all season long, Julius Randle led the way with 16 points and 11 rebounds for this edition of the Kentucky Wildcats, who seemed to get anything they wanted in the paint throughout the game. The game marked Randle’s NCAA-leading 24th double double, and he is the first freshman since 1978 to have 4 double double’s in his first 4 tournament games. Randle fought through contact all game long and never appeared to be rattled at any point during this tightly played contest. James Young followed with 13 points on 5-7 shooting from the field, and gave the Wildcats a huge momentum boost to start the game as he hit his first five shots. Aaron Harrison contributed 12 points (all in the second half) hitting on 4-6 attempts from three-point range, including the game winner. Andrew Harrison struggled from the field going 3-12 for 8 points, but contributed a game high 6 assists as well.

       

      This was a typical stat line for the Wildcats, but a name that has shown up in the box score surprisingly to most is Marcus Lee. Lee is a 6’11 freshman and is often considered as the most overlooked of the players in this spectacular recruiting class. He is a wiry body and has outstanding leaping ability and he put it all on display last night in Lucas Oil Stadium allowing everyone in the country to finally know his name. With the loss of Willie Cauley-Stein due to an ankle injury, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee were expected to contribute big games in the paint, altering shots and grabbing rebounds and both did their part. Marcus Lee sent shockwaves through the fanbase with his unexpected high level of play. He stepped in and immediately impacted the game grabbing 4 offensive rebounds, all good for put-back dunks. The roar in the arena was almost deafening and it was clear that the confidence of the young center was building. He blocked 2 shots, one jumpshot after a quick switch on a pick and roll, and another as the trailer on a layup attempt. For the game Lee finished with 8 rebounds (7 offensive) to accompany 10 points and has etched himself into Wildcat history forever likely with the performance in the game.

       

      Michigan would never back off though and really pushed the young Wildcats until the very final buzzer. The Wolverines answered every single run that Kentucky made and kept the game incredibly competitive throughout the duration. Nik Stauskas seemed nearly unstoppable for Michigan, scoring a game high 24 points in a variety of ways. The Super Sophomore was spectacular at the foul line as well, connecting on 10-11 attempts. Glenn Robinson III added 14 markers for the Wolverines and hit big shot after big shot, including two huge three pointers to cap Kentucky runs, both of which cut the Wildcat lead to two points.

       

      The Kentucky Wildcats advanced behind the heroics of Aaron Harrison late in the game, the gutsy unheralded performance by Marcus Lee, the steady interior domination by Julius Randle, and the never wavering guidance of John Calipari. This team was touted in the preseason as having the potential to go 40-0, and at this point in the year after making an unexpected deep tournament run, I feel like if you asked the majority of the fanbase they’d all say that they would gladly take a 30-10 record, and hang their ninth National Championship banner. The work that Calipari has done with this team is nothing short of remarkable. The 2014 edition of Kentucky basketball has transformed from a group of selfish, but talented, freshmen and have turned into an apparent unflappable solid unit of grown men. The development is something that only a Calipari coached team could pull off, and Kentucky fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Constant reminders from Cal throughout the season that “It’s a process” has begun to ring true to the fans, as the process has nearly completed itself for this group of players. Whether or not it will result in a National Title is still yet to be determined, but I can guarantee that no team will come into a game with Kentucky feeling over-confident because they are playing a group of 18 year old kids. These aren’t ordinary freshmen. This is a special group that has brought Big Blue Nation through so many ups and downs this season, and could possibly finish this roller coaster ride atop the mountain of college basketball. The faith of the fanbase has been instilled in a group of 7 freshmen, fighting their way along a brutal road as an eight seed to reach the Final Four in Dallas. In “Cal’s Kids” we trust.

    By: Austin Lyons

    DFN Staff Writer



  • What implications do this year’s bowl games hold for the National Championship?

    Fans of both teams in the National Championship this Monday who felt confident based off the outcomes of games played in the regular season undoubtedly felt different after this year’s Bowl series.

    The loss making the biggest waves is of course Alabama’s defeat at the hands of Oklahoma. Not only were fans of the two-time National Champions fooled into thinking they were unstoppable, everyone was. Vegas had the Tide as 16-point favorites; the third time this season that Oklahoma was a two-digit underdog. Even Alabama’s golden boy and Heisman runner-up, AJ McCarron, was outshined by Freshman Trevor Knight, who threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns.

    All season, teams in the top five had to face accusations that their conference allowed for an easy schedule. Alabama, being the only team to avoid such scrutiny, could blame their abrupt removal from the NC on a late-season loss and no one would think to argue. Everyone considered Alabama the best team in the nation, even after their loss to Auburn. Only after being outplayed by Oklahoma did people begin to look around, acknowledging that they might have been wrong.

    What implication, if any, does this hold for the Auburn Tigers in the upcoming National Championship against Florida State? Watching their most vaunted opponent fall to the Sooners showed that the Tiger’s claim to fame could be replicated, albeit by a squad that had beaten two Top 10 ranked teams in the regular season — Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

    Auburn’s only solace is watching Boston College, who the Seminoles beat by two touchdowns, getting blown out by Arizona. Boston College was the closest Florida State came to losing, the second lowest margin of victory coming from their first game of the season where they won against Pittsburgh by four touchdowns. A small consolation for a team whose highest ranked opponents — sans Missouri — did not play as well as expected in their respective bowl games.

    Texas A&M, who Auburn beat by a mere four points after sacking Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel on 4th down, was at one point down against Duke, a team that lost to Florida State 45-7 in the ACC Championship game. A&M finished the game with a four-point victory over the Blue Devils, a parallel that is hard to ignore. Out of the eight bowls featuring Auburn’s regular season opponents*, five have been won. Seven featuring FSU’s opponents resulted in three victories.

    Florida State has behaved exactly as expected all season. With a victory this Monday they would end the season undefeated  national champions, a feat the Seminoles last accomplished in 1999. Auburn heads into the game as 9 point underdogs, something that they are used to at this point. With parity all the rage this season, bowl outcomes hold little credence to the teams vying for the crystal trophy in Pasadena.

     

    *Arkansas State is set to play Ball State Sunday, January 5th, making it nine bowls featuring regular season opponents for Auburn



  • Mississippi State routs Rice 44-7 in Liberty Bowl

    MEMPHIS, TN – Amidst a chorus of cowbells and a sea of maroon, Mississippi State dominated Rice in a 44-7 rout. Unsurprisingly named MVP, the Bulldog’s dual-threat QB Dak Prescott had a monster game, throwing for over 280 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 78 yards and two touchdowns, a touching ending after losing his mother to cancer in November. Mississippi State, appearing in a bowl for a school record four consecutive years, played for a stadium with an overwhelming majority of State fans. With Memphis only 160 miles from Starkville, Rice was unable to overcome the hostile environment.

    Rice was the first to score, capitalizing on a forced fumble on the Bulldog’s first drive. Charles Ross ended the 9-play, 45-yard drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown to give Rice the early lead. That would be the only time a Rice player found the end zone, as Mississippi State completely shut down the Owl’s offense while tearing up their defense, even without senior QB Tyler Russell, who was sidelined due to a shoulder injury. In the good hands of Prescott and Jameon Lewis, the Maroon and White were up 27-7 by halftime.

    The second half was no different, as State extended the point deficit by another 13 points before the 4th quarter due to two rushing touchdowns by Prescott. Rice was looking to set a school record by winning their second consecutive bowl game; the last time Rice went back to back seasons with a postseason appearance was 1960-1961. A win today would have been especially thrilling after winning their conference title for the first time since 1957.

    By the fourth quarter, Rice was all but broken. State ran the score up to the final box score of 44-7 with a field goal that closed the book on a fantastic performance. By the final whistle, Jameon Lewis had caught nine passes for 220 yards, easily surpassing Rice’s 145 total yardage. Charles Ross could not conquer State’s defense, rushing for 28 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries.

    Cowbells reverberated around the stadium as State was presented with the Liberty Bowl trophy, fittingly a large bell. The victory capped off State’s fourth straight winning season–another school record–and set this Liberty Bowl as having the largest margin of victory ever. Head coach Dan Mullens has coached all four of those seasons, currently in his fifth year after replacing Sylvester Croom in 2009.

    “I love expectations,” Mullens said. “We’re building a winning tradition here at Mississippi State, and this is just the foundation.”

     

    By Brandon Weaver
    SEC-fans.com & DFN Sports Staff Writer



  • Ole Miss holds off Georgia Tech for Music City Bowl win

    NASHVILLE, TN – Ole Miss holds off a fourth quarter surge by the Yellow Jackets, who almost overcame a 16-point deficit only to fumble it into the endzone on the first play of their most crucial drive, giving the Rebels a safety. Bo Wallace, seeking redemption for his 3-interception, 0-touchdown performance against Mississippi State in the last regular season game, led the Rebels into the end zone on their opening drive, completing 6-8 and rushing in to the end zone from 17 yards for the first score of the 2013 Music City Bowl.

    Georgia Tech answered on the very next drive, capitalizing on a 15-yard personal foul penalty added to a 17-yard run by Robert Godigh. Tech ran it the rest of the way, ending in a rushing touchdown by Godigh to tie the game with 4:27 left in the first.

    The Rebels defense overcame Tech’s triple option the rest of the half, giving Wallace the opportunity to hit Moncrief in the end zone from 28 yards. Andrew Ritter, unable to hit the extra point, faced additional embarrassment when he missed the uprights from 28 yards, keeping the score 13-7 into halftime.

    After another touchdown and field goal by Ole Miss, victory began to seem assured, but a fourth quarter charge by Tech managed to keep it a game well into the fourth. After scoring their second score of the game — a 38 yard field goal by Harrion Butket — a crucial interception by Georgia Tech cornerback D.J. White gave Lee the chance to hit Darren Waller on a 72-yard dragon, making it a one possession game for the Yellow Jackets.

    In the end, Tech’s defense could not overcome the errors of their offense. After blocking a field goal attempt by Ole Miss, a botched reverse pass resulted in a fumble recovery by Tech in their own end zone, giving Ole Miss the safety and making it an 8-point game. One drive and punt later, Georgia Tech was given the ball with 37 seconds left. Their first play of the drive was an interception by Senquez Golson, clinching the 25-17 victory for the Rebels and giving the SEC a win in its first appearance in this year’s bowl series.

    The Rebels have now won their second consecutive bowl game under head coach Hugh Freeze, and extended their postseason win streak to six, which is the longest in the nation.

     

    By Brandon Weaver
    SEC-fans.com & DFN Sports Staff Writer



  • American football slots games

    In recent years casino games with a sporting twist have seen many of those who enjoy both sports and placing bets on them gravitate towards them, as a way of indulging both interests within a different format. One of the sports that has witnessed these spin-off casino games is American football – which is massively popular in that country, but also has an audience outside of the States – and two of those games which could be of real interest to fans of the sport and of gambling are Pigskin Payout and $5 Million Touchdown.

    Both of these are five reel slots with twenty pay lines, and both feature typical American football imagery on the reels – including things like players, cheerleaders, referees, footballs and whistles. There is a different between them when it comes to the screen background though, with Pigskin Payout featuring a typical NFL stadium with fans, while $5 Million Touchdown opts for a representation of an American football pitch. There is also a difference in the maximum jackpot that each game offers, with $5 Million Touchdown having a remarkable jackpot of just that amount, while Pigskin Payout has a more modest $3,750 one.

    So obviously you should forget about that game and just play Touchdown, right? Well not necessarily, as the jackpot on offer with Pigskin is still way more than most people will win by placing an NFL bet. Furthermore the free spins features that you get with this game potentially offer you the chance to multiply your payout numerous times over – for example if you score a reel with five of the football stadium icons on it, you are entitled to twenty five free spins. This is every bit as good a feature as the American football bonus game offered by $5 Million Touchdown, and these days you can download these games onto your phone from a mobile casino site like LuckyNuggetCasino.com/au, ensuring that if you enjoy playing them during the summer, you can take them with you and play them at the games as well once the season starts.



  • The Tide Recedes: Alabama’s Season Ends In NIT Quarterfinals

    NIT Quarterfinals

     

    (2) Maryland 58 (1) Alabama 57

     

    The Alabama Crimson Tide were outplayed by the Maryland Terrapins on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Coach Anthony Grant’s team just didn’t have its best stuff in the final game of the season at Coleman Coliseum. Win or lose, Alabama knew that this was going to be its last game at Coleman until November of 2013, but the Crimson Tide had hoped that this match with Maryland would lead to a spot in the NIT’s  final four next Tuesday in New York. However, it’s Maryland which will make the trip to the Big Apple. Alabama’s season is over.

     

    With the Tide trailing by one point, Alabama executed an effective inbounds play that began with 3.1 seconds left. The Tide’s Trevor Lacey was able to make a catch on the left wing. He faked out his Maryland defender and created a clean look from 17 feet with an unbothered shooting hand. However, the shot didn’t drop, and visions of another trip to New York – following a run to the 2011 NIT championship game against Wichita State – died on the Tide’s home floor. Yet, in many ways, it was impressive that Alabama even had a chance to win the game in the first place. The top seed in this NIT subregional was constantly fighting an uphill battle against its second-seeded opponent from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

     

    Maryland grabbed a 38-28 lead with 16:20 left in regulation. Alabama chipped away and reduced its deficit to 40-36 at the 12:36 mark of the second half. Maryland built its lead back to 57-49 with under four minutes left in regulation, but Alabama made another charge up the mountain, taking advantage of careless Maryland ballhandling, a problem that has dogged the Terps and head coach Mark Turgeon all season long.

     

    Alabama mounted an 8-1 run in the fires of crunch time, as both Rodney Cooper and Nick Jacobs scored old-fashioned “hoop and harm” three-point plays to slice into Maryland’s scoreboard cushion. When Trevor Releford made a layup with 47 seconds left on the clock, just eight seconds after Maryland’s Dez Wells turned the ball over, Alabama had pulled within one, at 58-57. When Maryland’s Alex Len – the best player on the floor in this game (15 points, 13 rebounds) – missed two foul shots with 27 seconds left and Bama’s Levi Randolph (15 points) got the rebound, the Tide – seemingly dead a few minutes earlier – found a chance to win. Cooper found a driving lane on the left side of the paint, and he got within three feet of the rim, but Len was there to block his layup attempt. Alabama ran a really good set to put Cooper in open space, but the problem with the Tide’s offense in that sequence was that the team waited too long to initiate action. Had Alabama attempted that layup with nine seconds left instead of four, Grant’s guys would have had more than 3.1 seconds left on the subsequent inbounds play. Lacey – who did get a clean look from 17 feet – might have had a chance to drive into the lane for a layup or an eight-foot floater. This is admittedly a bit of nit-picking in the NIT, but small details – which kept Alabama from beating Florida late in the season and punching a ticket to the NCAA tournament – are precisely what this team must master in the 2013-2014 campaign.

     

    Alabama should be an NCAA tournament team next season. The lessons learned in this game could give the Tide the motivation and hunger they will need for a very crucial campaign… for the program, yes, and also for Grant’s coaching career.

     

    Matt Zemek

     



  • Alabama Rolls Into NIT Quarterfinals

    NIT – Second Round

     

    (1) Alabama 66 (4) Stanford 54

    Alabama advances to play (2) Maryland in the quarterfinals on March 26

     

    Two years ago, the Alabama Crimson Tide made the championship game of the National Invitation Tournament. Now, they’re halfway to a repeat performance.

     

    Alabama, locked in at the defensive end of the floor, locked down the Stanford Cardinal early Saturday afternoon at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Crimson Tide earned one more home game this season for their fans and moved within two games of an NIT title game reunion. Of more immediate significance is that the Tide are now one win from a trip to New York for the NIT semifinals on Apr. 2.

     

    Alabama was not particularly threatened by Stanford, the defending NIT champion, on a day when the Cardinal saw their San Francisco Bay Area archrival, the California Golden Bears, tumble out of the NCAA tournament with a decidedly impotent offensive effort. The same lack of scoring punch was not limited to Cal; Stanford absorbed the Bay Area blues by hitting only 31 percent of its field goal attempts and earning only nine free throws all game long.

     

    Alabama didn’t exactly scorch the nets, hitting just under 39 percent of its field goal tries, but the Tide got to the free throw line a lot more than Stanford did. Alabama earned 26 trips to the charity stripe, making 22 free throws to outscore Stanford by 14 (22-8) at that spot on the floor. The teams that get 17 more foul shots in a game (and make 14 more) are generally the teams that work a lot harder at both ends of the court and carry the flow of play, especially near the rim. Alabama outmuscled and outmaneuvered Stanford, and that’s why there will be a new NIT champion this year. Retin Obasohan was an unlikely star for Alabama. The freshman guard from Belgium hit all eight of his foul shots and scored 14 points off the bench to boost Bama on Saturday.

     

    Stanford rolled to the NIT title last year, stopping Massachusetts in the semifinals before crushing Minnesota in the title game. Minnesota was able to parlay a deep NIT run into an NCAA tournament appearance and win this year; that’s always the hope of NIT teams that just miss out on the Big Dance. Stanford, though, could not make forward strides, and so this failure to defend an NIT championship means that if the NCAAs aren’t reached in 2014, head coach Johnny Dawkins won’t stick around for 2015. He’ll be fired.

     

    Anthony Grant, the Tide’s head coach, is not on thin ice the way Johnson is at Stanford, but he knows that he needs to make a run in the NIT to set the stage for next season. Alabama hasn’t been playing that poorly in recent weeks; in many ways, its only sin is that it has failed to beat league champion Florida in two competitive contests. If the Tide can go the distance in the coming weeks, a sense of optimism might finally filter into a program that needs a boost in a big way, en route to an NCAA tournament appearance 12 months from now.

    Matt Zemek

     



  • NIT Recap: Kentucky’s Miserable Season Ends

    NIT Recap

    (8) Robert Morris 59 (1) Kentucky 57

     

    It was improbable enough that the defending national champions in college basketball fell to the NIT. It was improbable enough that, upon falling to the NIT, the Kentucky Wildcats had to play their opening-round postseason game in a gym that held under 3,100 people because of a scheduling conflict that involved Rupp Arena, an NCAA tournament site that needs to be prepped for the eight teams that will play there on Thursday, March 21.

    Yet, if college basketball fans thought that the story of the 2013 Kentucky Wildcats could not get more bizarre or ugly, it managed to access a new low on Tuesday night in Moon Township, Pa.

    Yes, in a tiny gym located in a small town, Kentucky – one of the biggest brand names in college basketball – lost to the Robert Morris Colonials, the regular season champions of the Northeast Conference. Kentucky played 33 and a half minutes of utterly indifferent and soulless basketball; rallied with pride in the next six minutes; and ultimately got nipped at the wire, enduring one of the most embarrassing defeats in the storied history of the program. Kentucky’s loss will open the door for Providence or Charlotte to host a second-round NIT game, and it makes Baylor the highest remaining seed in that particular NIT subregional. More than that, however, this Kentucky loss brought an end to a season that became much more of a train wreck than most college basketball pundits ever could have imagined.

    Kentucky began the season ranked third in the nation. A new crop of freshman recruits was expected to pick up where the 2012 national champions left off. No, Kentucky was not supposed to dominate the sport the way it did a season ago, but the Wildcats were supposed to remain a top-tier team. Yet, this bunch of incoming players simply never meshed on the court or bought what coach John Calipari was selling. After this loss, Calipari set the tone for the 2013-2014 season, saying that the program had almost been “hijacked” and that he put up with substandard behavior from players “to try to save some guys,” which Calipari said he would never do again. A new and more ballyhooed class of recruits is on its way to Lexington, making Kentucky a top-five preseason pick in the 2013-2014 season, but one wonders if this loss – while possibly motivating the Wildcats for the coming autumn – might also make it harder for Kentucky to immediately regain national championship form next season.

    The long and short of this game is that Kentucky took way too long to compete with vigor and intensity. For the first 33 minutes of this game, the Wildcats were casual on the court inside the Charles L. Sewall Center. Halfhearted challenges on defense, spotty defensive rebounding, and generally deficient effort marked those 33 minutes for Big Blue. As a result, an inspired Robert Morris team – playing at home even though it was the designated road team due to being a lower seed – attained a 53-42 lead with 6:32 on the clock.

    Only then did Kentucky give a darn about its circumstances. The Wildcats dug in their heels on defense and uncorked an 11-0 run to tie the game at 53-all with 3:18 left. The game remained even-steven into the final minute, setting up a dramatic conclusion.

    With the score knotted at 57 with 12 seconds to go, Robert Morris coach Andrew Toole called timeout. He wanted to set up an inbounds play from the baseline, and it worked to perfection, outflanking Kentucky’s defense. Robert Morris’s Mike McFadden earned two foul shots, which he made to give the Colonials a 59-57 lead with 8.7 seconds left. Kentucky came downcourt and got a good look from three-point shooting specialist Kyle Wiltjer just before the final horn. Wiltjer’s shot banged off the rim and bounced away, creating an instant court-storm by the Robert Morris student body. A small school created a magic March moment in an event other than the NCAA tournament.

    Kentucky’s humiliating season, to the relief of many Big Blue fans, was finally and mercifully over. The process of restoring discipline and commitment can now begin for Calipari after a season that reminded the Wildcats to never take anything for granted.

     

    Matt Zemek

     



  • NIT Recap: The Crimson Tide Roll Northeastern

    NIT Recap

    (1) Alabama 62 (8) Northeastern 43

     

    Alabama advances to play (4) Stanford in the NIT round of 16 (date TBA)

     

    On a night when its SEC counterpart, the Kentucky Wildcats, crashed out of the NIT, the Alabama Crimson Tide displayed the poise and maturity of a team that actually cares about its postseason situation. Alabama, acting like a team that wants to play more games and embrace the joy of winning, pasted the Northeastern Huskies in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The emphatic win in Coleman Coliseum will give the Crimson Tide another home game in the month of March. Alabama will face the defending NIT champion, the Stanford Cardinal, in the round of 16.

    Yes, on Tuesday night, the biggest story in college basketball – bigger than the two First Four games in the NCAA tournament – was Kentucky’s loss to Robert Morris. Kentucky, like Alabama, was a No. 1 seed in an NIT subregional. That loss by Kentucky diminished the SEC’s basketball brand, but Alabama did its level best to build that brand back. Alabama made the championship game of the NIT in 2011, losing to the Wichita State Shockers in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Tide know that if they can win two more home games in their own building, they’ll be able to make another visit to New York for the NIT semifinals on Tuesday, April 2.

    If Alabama can defend the way it did on Tuesday against Northeastern, a trip to the Big Apple is a very likely prospect.

    Northeastern, the regular season champion of the Colonial Athletic Association, scored only 23 points in the first half. The Huskies struggled in the first half in each of their two games in the CAA Tournament in Richmond a week and a half ago. Northeastern scored just 19 points in a semifinal win over George Mason, and it tallied just 18 in a loss to James Madison in the championship game one day later. Yet, for all of the Huskies’ deficiencies at the offensive end of the floor, they trailed by only one point, at 28-27, with 18:39 left in the second half. Northeastern had to feel very optimistic about its chances against an Alabama side that had lost so many important SEC games in 2013 (especially against league champion Florida) because of its own inability to score in crunch time.

    However, on this night, Alabama became the team that forced a drought, not the team that suffered because of one. Over the next nine minutes, Northeastern did not score a single point. The Huskies simply could not find the basket on a night when they shot only 33 percent from the floor and equaled their number of made baskets (15) with their number of turnovers. Alabama’s defense hounded the Huskies in that nine-minute stretch, turning that tenuous 28-27 lead into a 50-27 bulge with 9:39 to go. The Crimson Tide cruised home to victory, and now they’ll get a chance to dethrone Stanford in the second round of the NIT.

    Whenever teams struggle from the field, they need to get to the free throw line, but Northeastern was able to generate only 10 foul shots on Tuesday. The Huskies simply could not outwork or rattle Alabama’s defense, as UA head coach Anthony Grant had his team mentally ready to play. So much of the battle in the NIT is rooted in motivation. Some teams, such as Kentucky, don’t care about being there, but Alabama accepted this game as a chance to get better and extend its season. If the Crimson Tide remain locked in on defense, they’re going to be a very tough out for anyone in their NIT subregional, which includes second-seeded Maryland in addition to fourth-seeded Stanford.

    Retin Obasohan scored 9 points off the bench for Alabama, whose reserves outscored Northeastern’s reserves by a 19-6 margin. Levi Randolph was Alabama’s best offensive player, throwing down 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Randolph’s efficiency stood in marked contrast to almost every other shooter on the floor, with teammate Nick Jacobs (3-for-3 from the field, 6 points) serving as a notable exception. Jonathan Lee was the one player who showed well for Northeastern, scoring 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the floor, 3 of 6 from three-point range.

     

    Matt Zemek