It’s not fair to say Stanford and UNLV faced must-win situations last night, but both sure came into their games against top 10 opponents in search of wins a bad way.
The Cardinal and Runnin’ Rebels had a dearth of substance in their non-conference performances heading into their games against Texas and Arizona, respectively. Ironically, Stanford’s 89-60 win over UNLV in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was maybe the most impressive win by either team entering last night, but otherwise both had little to brag about.
Stanford had one quality win over Wofford, which lost luster Monday night when the Terriers were ripped by 33 points by West Virginia. The Cardinal also have a loss to DePaul that is beginning to look worse by the day, and the rest of their schedule was loaded with mediocre performances in wins over mediocre-at-best opponents, a perfectly respectable loss to Duke, and a two-point loss to a BYU team that could be on the fence right next to them in just under three months. UNLV had been similarly unimpressive, with a lot of narrow wins at home over teams around the fringe of the top 100, and convincing losses to the three best teams its played (Stanford, Arizona State and Utah) by a total of 64 points.
With all of that, neither was a particularly good candidate to pick up big wins Tuesday night, but that’s exactly what they did. Stanford started the night with a 74-71 win at Texas in overtime, and a couple hours later UNLV followed that up by knocking Arizona from the ranks of the undefeated with a 71-67 win at home over the Wildcats.
It’s not too early to call both signature wins. Stanford was and is going to have plenty of chances for quality wins in the Pac-12, but a middling finish without a quality non-conference win could’ve been a death blow come NCAA Tournament selection time in March. For UNLV, this win immediately vaults the Rebels from near-anonymity into the conversation as an NCAA tourney contender, and could certainly make the difference if on the bubble in March.
Finally, the results of these two games should blow to smithereens any ideas that a top layer of teams has separated from the rest of the pack this college basketball season. Both Arizona and Texas were considered part of such a pack, and they were proven vulnerable Tuesday night against teams that are good, not great. This season has been loaded already with upsets and results no one expected. At this point, there should be no surprises.
- The Diamond Head Classic final is set, and it’s a juicy matchup featuring George Washington and Wichita State. The Colonials slugged out a 53-50 win over Colorado in one semifinal, while the Shockers escaped yet again, getting a putback by Rashard Kelly with 3.8 seconds left in overtime for an 80-79 win over host Hawai’i, which gave a magnificent effort on its home court.
- Louisville got a game from Cal State-Northridge for 28 minutes before pulling away for an 80-55 win. Wayne Blackshear scored 31.
- Villanova trailed NJIT by seven in the second half and still trailed with 13 minutes to play. The Wildcats finished with a flurry, while the Highlanders finished with a thud, the result being a 92-67 final that was nowhere close to indicative of the difference in the two teams for most of the game. Going by the play-by-play, Villanova scored on 20 of its final 23 possessions in the game.
- Utah rolled again, never allowing South Dakota State to threaten in an 80-66 win. Production keeps coming from different places, as freshman Brekkott Chapman scored a career-high 22 for the Utes.
- Louisiana Tech is going to rue an opportunity lost at North Carolina State. The Bulldogs were ahead by 18 in the second half, but the Wolfpack finished the game outscoring Tech 41-15 for a 73-65 win. Quality home win for N.C. State.
- Iona and Florida Gulf Coast looked on paper to be a terrifically entertaining matchup, and the Gaels’ A.J. English and FGCU’s Brett Comer put on a show in the first half, scoring 22 and 20 points, respectively. English got more help, though, as Iona took a 49-38 halftime lead and went on to an 86-67 win.
- Dayton spoiled Brian Gregory’s return to his former school, topping Georgia Tech 75-61. The Yellow Jackets had a huge size advantage and owned the boards, but it doesn’t matter when the Flyers shoot nearly 46%, hit 10 of 18 three-pointers and turn it over just six times.
- BYU got just four points from still-hobbling Tyler Haws but pulled out a 77-71 overtime win over Massachusetts. Anson Winder scored 25 points off the bench for the Cougars.
- Upset of the night: Grand Canyon held off New Mexico 68-65 for maybe the Antelopes’ best win as a transitioning Division I program so far.
- Another upset: two days after defeating Creighton at home, North Texas lost on its own court to Prairie View A&M 70-67. Another nice win for the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
- The SWAC nearly had another solid road conquest, but Auburn rallied and then held off Texas Southern 61-60.
- Finally, Howard of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is now a respectable 7-7 after a 73-60 win on the road at South Alabama that can be characterized as a mild upset. The Bison won eight games all of last season.
- Loyola (Ill.) won its sixth straight game and continued a surprising non-conference run with a 48-45 win over Boise State in the Las Vegas Classic championship game. Both teams dealt with their own adversity in the game. The Broncos played without their two best players, as Derrick Marks twisted his ankle Monday night in BSU’s win over Houston, while Anthony Drmic missed his sixth straight game with a back injury. On the other bench, Loyola coach Porter Moser was on the sideline for the game but with a heavy heart after his mother passed away yesterday morning. Sad news for his family.
- San Diego State’s Dwayne Polee returned home Tuesday after collapsing on the court Monday night in a game against UC Riverside. Test results are pending for Polee, but in the meantime he is able to resume all normal everyday activity, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, though he is not able to practice or play basketball.
It’s Christmas Eve and the courts are silent. Merry Christmas to all, and please enjoy the day with family and friends.