Maryland went into their game at Duke on Saturday with the ability to move ahead of the Blue Devils in the loss column with two games in hand. Well, the Blue Devils made sure to beat those thoughts out of the Terrapins on Mike Krzyzewski's 1,000th game as Duke head coach, jumping out to a 22-8 lead on their way to the 77-56 victory. Jon Scheyer led all scorers with 22 points but he's essentially a known quantity for Duke at this point. The surprising (and somewhat dominant) performance came from the tallest man on the roster. Brian Zoubek scores 16 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in his best game as a Blue Devil, rewarding Coach K for giving him the start.
"He should be getting a lot of credit with what he's done with himself as a basketball player from where he was as a freshman to where he is now," said Maryland head coach Gary Williams. "He is a guy that really found a way to enjoy his college basketball career, which is a great thing (quote courtesy of GoDuke.com)."
Of his seventeen rebounds Zoubek tallied eight on the offensive end, producing a career effort in just 22 minutes of action. Kyle Singler scored just ten points on 4-for-14 shooting but thanks to the seven-footer his off day didn't matter. Greivis Casquez led the Terrapins with seventeen points but fifteen of those came in the second half, and Duke's halftime lead (40-24) had essentially decided the outcome by that point. Maryland went seven minutes in the first half without a field goal, and their frigid shooting from beyond the arc (2-for-13) didn't help matter either.
While a solid effort would have bolstered their resume some (only one opponent has lost by single digits at Cameron; the Blue Devils are 14-0 at home), Saturday's loss leaves Maryland in need of a far better performance (if not a win) when these two get together in College Park on March 3rd. As for Duke, if Zoubek (one writer referred to him as "Kareem Abdul Zoubek" on Saturday) can build upon Saturday's showing this could be a game that fans look back on when attempting to explain their run in March. An important development to say the least, especially when taking into consideration Lance Thomas not being at full strength.
Three Key Happenings
1. San Diego State picks up a key resume-building win over UNLV. Steve Fisher's Aztecs needed Saturday's game against UNLV for two reasons. One, it was a win over a Top 25 team for a program that all-time is 15-78 against ranked opponents. Secondly, and most important, is the boost that the 68-58 win gives their resume. SDSU needed the win to begin gaining separation on the bottom five teams in the Mountain West and as a result they're now tied with the Rebels for third in the standings. Billy White led all scorers with 19 points while freshman Kawhi Leonard added 13 points and 14 rebounds, but it was their defense that ultimately made the difference.
UNLV shot just 35.2% from the field, making just three of seventeen three-pointers on the afternoon. The Aztecs also blocked nine shots and racked up nine steals while also out-rebounding UNLV 39-30. Leading scorers Tre'Von Willis and Chace Stanback combined to make just five of twenty-two shots as SDSU put together one of their best efforts of the season. "I thought we defended in a fashion that gives you a chance to win. They had 25 first half points," remarked head coach Steve Fisher. "We did not allow them to get to the rim at will on straight line drives. We knew who they're 3-point shooters were and we contested the 3-point shots. We made it hard for them to get good, easy looks (quote courtesy of SDSU Athletics)."
2. John Wall and Eric Bledsoe spark Kentucky's 2nd half revival. Neither freshman guard played his best in the first half, allowing the Tennessee zone defense to limit their looks as the Wildcats took a 30-29 lead into the locker room. But head coach John Calipari had a simple message for the phenoms, especially Eric Bledsoe: keep shooting. Those two made plays down the stretch, sparking a 10-0 run to turn a 52-50 deficit into a 60-52 lead they would not relinquish. Wall led all scorers with 24 points while Bledsoe finished with 16, making up for a quiet night from the field (2-6 FG) for DeMarcus Cousins. The Wildcats also received a solid performance from DeAndre Liggins, who finished the night with seven points, four rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes off the bench. Kentucky found the holes in the Volunteers' 3-2 zone, resulting in a number of good looks they were able to capitalize on.
"When you are in a 3-2 zone that is what is open is the corner because you have three guys above the free-throw line and only two guys below the free-throw line," noted Coach Calipari after the game. "We started flashing our center in the middle to make one of those low guys guard them and then our corners were open. We just made open shots (quote courtesy of Kentucky Athletics)." Why is their second half important? Because Kentucky is going to see a lot of zone down the stretch in opponents' attempt to keep Wall and Bledsoe out of the paint. And should they run into a team that's used to playing zone come March (ex.- Syracuse) Kentucky will need to figure out where the gaps are and how to exploit them.
3. Memphis moves into sole possession of 2nd place in Conference USA. By no means are Josh Pastner's Tigers out of the woods in regards to getting back to the NCAA Tournament; in fact they're likely to remain on the bubble despite their 93-86 win at Tulsa. But the combination of their win and UAB's shocking home loss to Marshall leaves Memphis as the lone team a game behind UTEP in the loss column with three weeks left in the regular season. Elliot Williams led Memphis with a game-high 27 points but the most important development has to be the play of Angel Garcia off the bench. The sophomore from Puerto Rico scored 16 points in just ten minutes of action, and as he gains stamina and that surgically repaired right knee gets stronger this team will get stronger.
Garcia and Will Coleman held their own in the matchup with NBA prospect Jerome Jordan, and Saturday's showing may be the first sign of why Coach Pastner agreed to part ways with Pierre Henderson-Niles. With six games left the Tigers have a manageable schedule with their biggest tests being Houston and UAB on the road and a season-ending rematch with the Golden Hurricane, and they've got their Tournament destiny in their own hands. But it's rare to add a player the caliber of Angel Garcia this late in the season (New Mexico State's Troy Gillenwater may be a proper comparison), and if he can build upon Saturday the Tigers could once again find themselves in the Big Dance.
Top Three Games
1. Cal-State Fullerton 113, Cal-State Northridge 112 (3OT) Eric Williams was the hero in the third extra session, grabbing a purposely missed free throw and scoring while being fouled to tie the game. His free throw gave the Titans the lead with 3.2 seconds remaining and they held on to knock off the Matadors. Fullerton's Gerald Anderson scored 11 of his 25 points in said overtime while Kenny Daniles scored 25 to lead Northridge.
2. Saint Louis 68, Dayton 65 (2OT) The team that so many coaches in the Atlantic 10 regard as the most dangerous down the stretch proved exactly why, knocking off Dayton in double overtime. Cody Ellis hit a pair of three pointers in the final extra session and Kwamain Mitchell led the Billikens with a game-high 21. Devin Searcy and Chris Wright scored 16 points apiece for the Flyers.
3. North Dakota St 90, South Dakota St 85 (2OT) Three Bison players scored at least 20 points with Eric Carlson's 24 (and 12 rebounds) leading the way as they picked up the road victory. Clint Sargent led the Jackrabbits with 24, but SDSU was unable to recover from a Josh Vaughn three pointer with three seconds left in the first overtime that tied the game.
Honorable Mention: Baylor 64, Missouri 62 The Bears pulled out the home win late, scrapping for an offensive rebound that Ekpe Udoh eventually tipped in with just over one second remaining. LaceDarius Dunn led all scorers with 17 points while Zaire Taylor led the Tigers with 15.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Randy Culpepper (UTEP) Culpepper went off on East Carolina, scoring 45 points on 14-for-18 shooting (9-12 3PT) in the Miners' 100-76 victory in El Paso.
2. F Ike Okoye (Boise State) Okoye accounted for 32 points and 14 rebounds in the Broncos' 88-80 overtime loss at Nevada.
3. F Kyle Austin (UC Riverside) Austin scored 39 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the Highlanders' 87-84 double overtime loss to Cal Poly.