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Saturday’s Things To Know: Arizona State takes down Kansas, Alford’s hot seat, Kentucky’s back

Kansas Arizona St Basketball

Arizona State guard Remy Martin (1) celebrates in the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Kansas, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State won 80-76. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)


PLAYER OF THE DAY: Rob Edwards and Remy Martin, Arizona State

Edwards finished with a team-high 15 points off the bench on Saturday night and Martin added 10 points, four boards and four assists.

They were responsible for capping off a wild comeback by the Sun Devils. Edwards buried a three with 2:23 left to give Arizona State their first lead of the night. After two Dedric Lawson free throws, Martin’s 17-footer gave Arizona State a 78-76 lead with 1:01 left on the clock. On the final two possessions, Edwards and Martin would both force a turnover, Martin drawing an offensive foul on a screen and Edwards creating a backcourt violation.

They earned Arizona State a win down the stretch.

And that was a win the Pac-12 desperately needed.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Kentucky Wildcats

The Kentucky team that we thought we would see this season showed up for the first time on Saturday afternoon.

The No. 19 Wildcats held North Carolina to their worst offensive performance of the season, keeping Coby White from getting going and controlling the defensive glass, as they held on to beat the Tar Heels, 80-72, in a game that never truly felt in danger in the second half. I wrote all about that here.

The one thing that is worth adding is that this is the first quality win of the season for Kentucky. Prior to Saturday, they had not beaten a team that was ranked in the top 90 on KenPom and have just four wins against the top 150. Their best win was either a home win over UNC Greensboro (the best by the numbers) or a home win over Utah (the best on paper).

Kentucky had to get this win, if not for their resume or their season but just their mental health. Their last non-conference game is at Louisville next Saturday. Going into the Yum! Center on the back of a second loss in the span of three games would not have been ideal.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Ryan Pippins, Arkansas-Little Rock

Pippins banked in a 30-foot three at the end of regulation to force overtime against Georgetown:

It would not lead to a win. Mac McClung scored 38 points and James Akinjo added 25 as the Hoyas pulled away in the extra period. Still a pretty sick shot, though.


OHIO STATE: The Buckeyes landed another nice win on Saturday, knocking off UCLA, 80-66, to move to 11-1 on the season. It’s another example of the wizardry of Chris Holtmann, but the game -- as you’ll see below -- said a whole lot more about UCLA than it did Ohio State.

JAHVON QUINERLY: Villanova’s five-star freshman had spent the season buried on the bench as Jay Wright opted to play guys that he trusted more. He didn’t have that option on Saturday, as Collin Gillespie was forced to miss the game through injury. In his stead, Quinerly played 25 minutes. They weren’t perfect, mind you -- he shot 2-for-8 from the floor and even airballed his first three -- but he was a net positive and, most importantly, a major part of the game-changing run in the second half, a 19-0 surge that put the game against UConn away.

This isn’t going to immediately mean that Quinerly will play 20 minutes a night from here on out, but this was a chance for his to prove that he is deserving of Wright’s trust on a big stage.

PENN: The Quakers won their sixth straight game on Saturday, and their fourth straight game against a team from a higher level conference. They went into The Pit and knocked off New Mexico on Saturday. That comes on the heels of wins over Villanova, at La Salle and against Miami. This is a really good basketball team in an Ivy League that is better than anyone realizes.

SAN FRANCISCO: USF is looking like they might actually be the second-best team in the WCC this season. The Dons knocked off Stanford, 74-65, on Saturday afternoon, but what may be more impressive is that USF did not even cover the spread -- they were favored by 9.5 points over a Pac-12 team. USF is now 12-1 on the season. Their only loss came against Buffalo on a neutral court in Ireland.


MURRAY STATE: The Racers had a chance to land a marquee win on Saturday afternoon, as they went into Auburn Arena and held a second half lead against the No. 7 Tigers. Ja Morant put on a show again, finishing with 25 points, eight boards and seven assists a month after scoring 38 points at Alabama. But it was all for nought: Auburn won 93-88, and the Racers will almost assuredly have to win the OVC’s automatic bid if they want to get into the NCAA tournament.


TOWSON: Not only did the Tigers run a beautiful sideline out of bounds play to get a dunk on their own basket, but they became just the second team to lose to La Salle this year. The other? 0-11 Alabama A&M.


Saturday’s loss may have put the nail in Steve Alford’s coffin at UCLA.

The Bruins have now lost three games in a row. They are 7-5 on the season with a 1-4 mark against high-major opponents. After falling 80-66 to No. 15 Ohio State in the CBS Sports Classic on Saturday afternoon, the Bruins have lost to the Buckeyes, Cincinnati, Michigan State and North Carolina by a combined 79 points. That doesn’t include last Saturday’s home loss to Belmont.

That’s not a good spot for UCLA to be in, but what makes matters worse is that there will be no rallying in league play. The Pac-12 has been dreadful this year. There aren’t going to be big wins to pick up during conference play, not when Arizona is struggling, Oregon is down and USC can’t crack .500. Even Alford will admit as much.

“Our league has not performed well,” he told reporters after Saturday’s loss. “That’s obvious. As a whole, our league has not done well out of conference, so we’ve got a lot of work to do from that standpoint because that year we had a little bit more, I think opportunities, in league play to get big wins, and this year out of conference, our league hasn’t performed well.”

In other words, barring a miracle or a run to win the Pac-12’s automatic bid, UCLA is going to miss the NCAA tournament for the second time in Alford’s six year tenure in Westwood. On paper, that’s not all that bad, especially when you consider that three of his four trips to the NCAA tournament have resulted in Sweet 16s. The problem is that strictly looking at tournament results buries the lede: One of those Sweet 16 runs came as a No. 11 seed, one came with Lonzo Ball on the roster and another took wins over Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin to get to the second weekend.

The simple fact of the matter is this: In his sixth season at UCLA, Alford should not be hoping and praying to land the league’s automatic bid to get into the NCAA tournament. This isn’t UC Davis or Cal St.-Northridge. He has a roster composed of back-to-back top six recruiting classes. He has three McDonald’s All-Americans on his roster. He has seven top 100 players.

But UCLA does not defend. They are selfish. They have a roster full of guys that fall somewhere between believing they deserve to be in the NBA right now or thinking that this is their team and their chance to prove themselves worthy of being a first round pick. Yes, injuries have hurt, but losing Tyger Campbell and Shareef O’Neal is not enough of an excuse. I could understand an argument for why those injuries kept UCLA from winning the league title. They aren’t an excuse for being a punching bag.

“I’m a man of God,” Alford said, “so I’ve got an audience of one.”

At this point, Alford better hope that God roots for USC or Arizona.

Because that may be the only thing that can save him.