Earlier this week, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge was the center of attention. For the past couple of nights it’s the SEC/Big 12 Challenge that has taken over. And just like one game in particular in the former got everyone’s attention, and was about as good as billed, there was one matchup in the latter that many were eagerly awaiting. It wasn’t quite as good as billed in the second half, but it was a competitive game, for the most part.
Texas had about as good a month of November as Kentucky, as previously detailed in this space. The Longhorns also have a lot of length, so they figured to be able to match up with Kentucky. Texas led several times in the first half and had a big edge on the glass, and the teams were tied at 26 at the break. It figured to be quite a second half.
Well, not exactly.
Kentucky started the second half by scoring the first 10 points as part of a 18-2 run. They turned up the defense, which has been their calling card and a big reason why this team appears as good as advertised. Texas didn’t score until almost six minutes into the second half and had just two baskets in the first nine minutes. Talent and physical gifts are great, but when you defend the way Kentucky does, you can win a lot of games.
But the Longhorns didn’t go away. They’ve overcome plenty of adversity before, especially the nucleus of this team, and they battled back to within five points a couple of times. Still, you never quite sensed that the Longhorns were going to finish the comeback. Kentucky was always going to answer and keep a safe distance. The Wildcats just had too much and made that run to start the second half stand up in a 63-51 win.
Willie Cauley-Stein paced the Wildcats with 21 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. The other two main big men, Dakari Johnson (11 points, six rebounds) and Karl-Anthony Towns (10 points) were the only other Wildcats in double figures. Jonathan Holmes led Texas with 14 points, but was 4-13 from the field.
Texas out-rebounded Kentucky 42-31, a good stat to win. However, the Longhorns shot below 30 percent from the field and turned the ball over 22 times. No matter how well a team rebounds, it’s tough to win a game doing that.
Just as the Big Ten won the ACC/Big Ten Challenge convincingly, the Big 12 has a 6-2 edge in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to clinch it already. Kentucky’s win over Texas last night was the only one that went the SEC’s way, with LSU’s win over West Virginia on Thursday being the only other one going for the SEC. Florida led Kansas by 15 at the half, but Kansas used a 17-0 run as part of a big second half to beat the Gators 71-65 in Lawrence and drop Florida to 3-4. Oklahoma took care of Missouri 82-63 in the other game in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on the evening.
Keeping up the tough times for the SEC, Coastal Carolina beat Auburn 58-54 with a big second half.
It also hasn’t been the best of times for the American Athletic Conference. Fresh off a fine first year that included the national champion and the NIT runner-up, the conference hasn’t had a good first few weeks. On Friday night, it didn’t get much better. SMU, who has struggled out of the gates, beat previously undefeated Wyoming 66-53, but Connecticut gave it right back in losing 45-44 to Yale on a three-pointer right before the buzzer. Yale is now 8-2, while Connecticut is 3-3.
Louisville took care of FIU 82-57, shooting over 57 percent from the field and forcing 25 turnovers to overcome 20 of their own.
A couple of local rivalry games were on tap. Pittsburgh beat Duquesne 76-62 behind a big night from James Robinson. Boston College got its best win of the season, knocking off Providence 69-60 in a well-played game. More on the latter will be coming later, so stay tuned.
In a matchup of notable mid-majors, Long Beach State was pummeled 74-45 by Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks beat the 49ers in a few key areas, but the big one was a 36-19 rebounding edge.
One other surprise in the mid-major ranks was Fairfield handling Manhattan 67-54 in the MAAC opener for both schools. Manhattan, a team much was expected of, is now 1-5.
It’s another full Saturday of action with over 100 Division I games, including some rivalry matchups.
- The final two games in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge are on tap as South Carolina welcomes Oklahoma State and Tennessee welcomes Kansas State to Knoxville.
- Wisconsin tries to rebound from its loss to Duke against arch-rival Marquette in Milwaukee.
- Old Big East rivals meet as Rutgers takes on Seton Hall at the Prudential Center and St. John’s goes to Syracuse.
- La Salle visits Temple in a Big 5 matchup, and Saint Joseph’s travels to the Main Line to play arch-rival Villanova.
- Virginia takes on VCU in Richmond in what should be one of the best games of the day.
- The game that figures to be the best one of the day is Gonzaga at Arizona in a matchup of top ten teams.
- Arizona State heads to College Station to take on Texas A&M in a battle of teams off to a quietly good start.
- Northwestern heads to Indianapolis to play Butler in an intriguing matchup.
- An early ACC game is mixed in as Wake Forest takes on NC State in Raleigh.
- Alabama goes to Xavier in a game that could be better than billed.
- The night ends with a good one as Saint Mary’s hosts Boise State.