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For 3: Kentucky's statement win highlights major Saturday in college hoops


The Big 12/SEC Challenge was the headliner on Saturday … and it ended in a 5-5 tie. We’ll get to the two biggest matchups in a bit, but the top storyline outside of the two showdowns was the continuation of Texas’ woes and LSU’s late-game execution. LSU has won eight in a row, with its past six wins coming by a combined 15 points. Shaka Smart’s seat got a bit hotter, as the Longhorns are now on a three-game losing streak.

There were a couple of eye-openers from the rest of the country. Memphis lost again, this time at home to SMU, three days after the Tigers lost to Tulsa by 40. And the chances of a three-bid ACC got a bit higher on Saturday afternoon when NC State and Virginia Tech both lost.

And now, for the two marquee Saturday night games.

3 things from Saturday

1. Kentucky gets statement road win at Texas Tech

In one of the more competitive games we’ll see this season, Kentucky went into Lubbock, Texas, and beat Texas Tech 76-74 in overtime. It was the Red Raiders’ first nonconference home loss since Dec. 18, 2013, and ended a 54-game home nonconference winning streak.

It wasn’t the most fundamentally sound basketball game we’ll ever see, a contest filled with poor decision-making and empty possessions later in the game. But the biggest takeaway is Kentucky’s toughness to get a road win in that environment. The Wildcats had a couple of close calls not go their way and Texas Tech had chances to win, but Kentucky kept responding.

The Wildcats got stops when it mattered on the defensive end, with Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley aggressive on the perimeter and Nick Richards patrolling the interior. John Calipari has elite individual defenders, especially in Hagans, who made multiple game-changing defensive plays on Saturday night. A team with defensive players of that caliber shouldn’t be ranked outside the top 30 in adjusted defensive efficiency, as Kentucky was entering Saturday night. If the Wildcats can defend consistently, that takes them to a new level.

Richards’ development from inconsistent bench player into an SEC Player of the Year candidate as a junior has been something to behold. He was a game-changer at both ends, finishing with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks. Richards was dominant on the offensive glass early and then consistently got to the free throw line late in the game for easy points.

The Wildcats did have issues — poor decision-making from Hagans and Tyrese Maxey on the offensive end chief among them — but this team’s ceiling is still as high as any in the country.

Two notes on Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are now 12-7 overall (3-3 in the Big 12) and will take a two-game losing streak into next week’s two-game slate that includes a home game against West Virginia and a road trip to Kansas. Chris Beard is going to need freshman guard Jahmi’us Ramsey to bounce back after he finished with six points in 24 minutes amid foul issues.

Secondly, the environment in Lubbock looked ridiculous — one of the most raucous environments in college basketball this season. What Beard has done with that program is so impressive, and as one industry source texted me during the game: “The crowd tonight is why Beard should never leave for Texas. He wouldn’t get a crowd like this vs. Kansas if he was at Texas.”

2. Baylor handles Florida with ease in Gainesville

There won’t be a change at the top of the rankings come Monday. Baylor got down by as many as eight points early at Florida, and there was some thought the Gators might be starting to live up to their preseason hype. Those thoughts were short-lived. The Bears ended the first half on a 13-2 run and Florida never came within striking distance after the break.

Jared Butler and MaCio Teague have been the constants for Scott Drew’s team this season, but the Bears have also seemingly had a rotating cast of third options step up at various points. Some nights it’s Freddie Gillespie; some nights it’s Davion Mitchell. On Saturday, it was Devonte Bandoo. The senior guard had 11 points before halftime, and finished with 16 points and three 3-pointers.

So Baylor continues to prove it’s the No. 1 team in the country. What about a team many people had in the top five in the preseason, Florida?

After winning five of six entering the week, the Gators are now just 12-7 overall following losses to LSU and Baylor. The Gators just couldn’t put it together for extended stretches against the Bears. They started strong, but faded at the end of the first half. Whenever they seemed poised to make a second-half run, they either couldn’t get a stop or couldn’t get a basket or couldn’t make a free throw. Florida’s second-half numbers: 1-for-8 from 3, 7-for-12 from the free throw line. That’s not going to beat most teams, let alone a top-ranked team on a 15-game winning streak.

3. Illinois is atop the Big Ten

You read that correctly. After beating Michigan on the road Saturday afternoon, Brad Underwood and the Fighting Illini have sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. Michigan State can draw even with them when the Spartans play at Minnesota on Sunday, but for now, everyone in the league is looking up at Illinois. Illinois, despite finishing 12-21 last season and 7-13 in the league, was picked by most to finish in the top half of the conference in 2019-20. That seemed unlikely for most of the nonconference season after a blowout loss at Arizona, a home loss to Miami and a defeat to rival Missouri — and zero good nonconference wins. But the Fighting Illini are now on a six-game winning streak after Saturday’s road win.

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Ayo Dosunmu’s shot with 0.5 seconds remaining gives Illinois a win over Michigan on the road.

Ayo Dosunmu was terrific for the Fighting Illini, scoring 27 points and hitting the game-winning shot over Zavier Simpson with 0.5 seconds left to provide the 64-62 margin. His size and athleticism make him a tough matchup for most guards, and he has been playing at a high level during the winning streak. Over Illinois’ past five games, Dosunmu is averaging 19.2 points and 5.4 assists while shooting 18-for-19 from the free throw line.

Meanwhile, Michigan has now lost four in a row and drops to 2-6 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines were one of the best teams in the country through the first month, moving into the top five after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis by 18 over Gonzaga. Since then, Juwan Howard’s team is 3-8. And Saturday brought even more bad news. Isaiah Livers, the team’s top scorer, had missed the past six games with a groin injury. He returned to start against Illinois and scored seven points in 20 minutes, but then exited after reaggravating the groin injury.

3 things for Sunday

1. Big Ten pecking order

With up to 12 Big Ten teams harboring hopes of hearing their names on Selection Sunday, every day features multiple games that can impact NCAA tournament chances — and the conference standings. Sunday has three of those games: Michigan State at Minnesota, Maryland at Indiana, and Ohio State at Northwestern.



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