The first half was done in by the emotion of the moment with the Wildcats taking a 27-19 lead into the locker room. Neither team shot the ball well, and when you spend more time talking than executing that's usually the end result. But both teams came out ready to play in the second half, with Louisville storming back to take a 42-41 lead at the halfway point of the final stanza. From there, John Wall took over. The freshman scored the next six points to regain control of the game, one that the Wildcats won 71-62 much to the delight of the home crowd. Wall (17 points) showed that he's the constant for Kentucky, unwilling to bend or break in the face of adversity.
But the X-factor for Kentucky may very well be the mercurial Cousins, who led the way with 18 points and 18 rebounds, and how well he manages his emotions. When focused on the task at hand the big man can be borderline unstoppable, pairing with the consistent Patrick Patterson up front. But when he allows his emotions to get away, as was on the verge of happening in the game's first minute, Kentucky is one rash decision away from losing one of their key cogs. If DeMarcus can produce without getting involved in the extracurricular activities Kentucky is a very difficult team to beat; look for Coach Calipari to drill that fact into his head on a daily basis.
Three Key Happenings
1. Don't bother trying to figure out the Pac-10 race. The much-maligned conference began conference play this weekend, and conventional wisdom didn't stand much of a chance against the actual games. USC continued on their hot streak with an ugly yet effective 47-37 win over Arizona State, completing a home sweep of the Arizona schools. Mike Gerrity has had more of an impact than any other mid-season transfer and one constant for Kevin O'Neill's team is their defense. But they aren't tied for first place with either preseason favorite (Cal or Washington). Try Oregon. The Ducks completed a road sweep of the Washington schools with an impressive 90-79 win at Washington, snapping the Huskies' 18-game home winning streak.
Malcolm Armstead led the way with 21 points in what was a balanced effort from the Ducks, just two days after Tajuan Porter led Oregon to a double-overtime win at Washington State. But how will Ernie Kent's team deal with this prosperity? We'll find out the answer to that question next week when they take on in-state rival Oregon State. California, who whipped Stanford 92-66, couldn't avoid a loss either as guard Jorge Gutierrez went down with a knee injury. The severity is unknown at this time but they can ill-afford to lose another body given their lack of depth as it is. The first weekend provided this nugget on the Pac-10: don't bother using "conventional wisdom" to figure out the race. Expect a wild ride.
2. Pittsburgh continues to have Syracuse's number. The Panthers picked up their fourth consecutive win at the Carrier Dome, winning 82-72 thanks in large part to the three point line. The Panthers (10-for-24) outscored the frigid Orange (1-for-13) by twenty-seven points in that department, and starting guards Ashton Gibbs (24 points) and Jermaine Dixon (21 points) outscored the Syracuse starting guards (Andy Rautins and Brandon Triche) 45-15. It also didn't help Syracuse to have both Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku foul out (the home folks weren't particularly pleased with the whistles) of the game while making a minimal effort.
But the Panthers were able to pick up a win on the first leg of the dreaded Saturday/Monday double that the Big East schedule can require teams to play. Heading to Cincinnati at 2-0 feels a lot different than 1-1 for Jamie Dixon and company, especially when you watched your guys shoot much better from the field than in recent games.
3. Kansas hits the road and takes care of business. Many thought that the trip to Philadelphia to take on Temple would be a dangerous journey for the top-ranked Jayhawks. But this deep squad went out and took care of business from the start, not looking back until they'd scored an 84-52 win at the Liacouras Center. Sherron Collins scored their first seven points as the Jayhawks raced out to a 40-23 halftime lead. From there it was a matter of simply naming the score on a night that saw Juan Fernandez shoot 3-for-16 from the field and Ryan Brooks not fare much better with his 4-for-11 night.
KU shot 54.5% while holding the Owls to 25% shooting and the Jayhawks also finished with four players in double figures. Why is Bill Self's team a favorite to win the national title? They execute offensively and they're more than willing to guard you on the other end. Kansas put together an impressive performance on Saturday.
Top Three Games
1. Virginia Tech 103, Seton Hall 94 Dorenzo Hudson stepped up for an injured Malcolm Delaney in a big way, scoring 41 points in the Hokies' victory in Cancun. Jeff Allen added 23 points and 13 rebounds while the Pirates were led by Jeremy Hazell's 24.
2. Villanova 74, Marquette 72 The Golden Eagles let another close one slip away, falling to the Wildcats thanks in large part to a Scottie Reynolds' three-point play late. Reynolds led all scorers with 23 points while Jimmy Butler scored nineteen to lead Marquette.
3. Gonzaga 85, Illinois 83 (OT) An Elias Harris drive and reverse layup with 12 seconds left saved the Bulldogs from blowing a 21-point first half lead. Four Bulldogs scored in double figures with Steven Gray's 20 leading the way while Illinois' Dominique Keller scored a game-high 22 off the bench.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Dorenzo Hudson (Virginia Tech) Hudson scored 41 points, making twenty of twenty-one free throws while also handing out five assists in the Hokies' 103-94 overtime win over Seton Hall.
2. F Ekpe Udoh (Baylor) The Michigan transfer came up big in Baylor's 85-74 win at South Carolina, grabbing twenty rebounds in addition to scoring twelve points and blocking two shots.
3. G Jamarco Warren (Charleston Southern) Warren made eight of seventeen shots from behind the arc on his way to 37 points in the Buccaneers' 79-73 win over Presbyterian.