One Saturday in December features multiple fantastic matchups
BY MATT DE SARLE
Monday’s AP Top 25 in college basketball is going to look much different after this Saturday’s action. The latter half of the top ten is going to leap-frog much of the top 5. Teams like Purdue and UCONN got relatively little challenge against conference foes, while Virginia, Alabama, and Tennessee tested themselves against non-conference powers and lost in close matchups. Here’s a brief summary of what we observed.
UCLA and Kentucky struggle to score down the stretch
This one was tough to watch down the stretch. Collectively in the final six minutes of this game, these teams went 5-of-19 from the floor while missing a handful of free throws. It was droughts in the UCLA offense that ended its season at the hands of upstart UNC in the 2022 tournament. And we all know about how Kentucky came up short on the big stage against St. Peter’s. It was a big stage for this one, in the CBS Sports Classic in primetime and at Madison Square Garden, but the stars did not light up the score board. It was weird to see last season’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award winner for center of the year, Oscar Tswiebwe, only get a few touches down the stretch. The big man missed his final three shots in the last ten minutes —a missed dunk, missed layup, and missed jumper.
UNC turns contest with Ohio State into a track meet to muster overtime win
As referenced above, the Tar Heels have a flair for the dramatics. In the 2021-2022 campaign, they started their season lousy on defense yet exciting in the open court. They played up to the competition. That volatility hit the plus side of the ledger when they ran through March Madness as the runner-up to a championship. Saturday’s game with them pitted against Ohio State at MSG felt like that moment. The Tar Heels were dominated throughout the meat of the game. However, through furious pressure defense, fast break points, and a high volume of free throws and three point attempts, the Tar Heels forced overtime. UNC trailed by as many as 14 points in the game and only made a pitiful 11 percent from three point territory. Yet, a likely X factor for their full season (Pete Nance) hit a game tying last possession shot to force overtime in dramatic fashion. Nance, the son of longtime NBA star Peter Nance, has polished a well-rounded game under the radar during his time at Northwestern. Now his ability to score at all three levels was the difference for UNC to finish off this epic comeback.
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Brandon Miller officially arrives on national stage despite Alabama’s loss to Gonzaga
There are two takeaways from Alabama’s game against Gonzaga. For one, Gonzaga doesn’t need to regret scheduling so aggressively. After so many non-conference bumps in the road, Drew Timme and Bulldogs are back to their winning ways. More importantly, Brandon Miller is a star and won’t be playing college basketball next season.
Drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant during the telecast, Brandon Miller lit up the game with 36 points. That includes a simmering stretch where he essentially scored 17 points in the equivalent of the 3rd quarter. Although the freshman was a known star, Alabama had never fed him in this obnoxious of a fashion. Miller made good on his 22 attempts by making 12 of them.
See the highlights here, courtesy of CBS Sports (and pirated by Frankie Vision for YouTube)
You can only watch Brandon Miller to believe he plays in a league other than the NBA
Arizona asserts itself in another mega-matchup nightcap
Us college basketball fans were treated to not only an amazing game of action, but a perfect nightcap to finish the day. Arizona proved that it can continue rising to the moment. After beating Indiana in a nationally televised primetime game on a big stage in Las Vegas, the Wildcats headed back to the crib for this one. The 9th ranked Wildcats knocked off the 6th ranked Tennessee Volunteers. And it got testy early and late. The game started with a technical foul for chest-bumping and stare downs under the rim. After the game, there were flexing and more stare downs in the handshake line. Still, what these teams showed between the lines was impressive. Zagai Ziegler continues his super efficient play at point guard for the Vols. He scored 21 points on 73% shooting (but only dished one assist). Tennessee guards are ready for primetime. Arizona’s bigs can be a separator. And both of these squads looked polished and ready for another high level competition like this one. This didn’t look like a Final 4 matchup. It looked like the national championship. Arizona has now beat top 25 teams Creighton, San Diego State, Indiana, and Tennessee in the early going of this season.