Are the Huskies in trouble? Well, considering their 3-4 Pac-10 record and lack of a true road victory you can definitely make a case that they are. Thursday's loss to UCLA was a tough one, falling 62-61 when one-time walk-on Mustafa Abdul-Hamid knocked down a pull-up jumper from the top of the key as time expired. Abdul-Hamid's shot was preceded by Venoy Overton's coast-to-coast dash in which no Bruin defender stepped up to change his path to the basket. But with the Bruins still having 3.2 seconds to make something happen that defensive error no longer mattered. While the UDub backcourt struggled for most of the night a pair of freshmen combined for 26 points to lead the Bruins.
Tyler Honeycutt, who has been unable to add muscle to his slender frame due to injury, scored ten points while Reeves Nelson came off the bench to score 16 and add toughness to the Bruins' frontline. Nelson's contributions are all the more important considering the fact that James Keefe and Nikola Dragovic aren't the kind of big men who always seem willing to mix things up. As for Washington the story was all about the backcourt despite 23 points from forward Quincy Pondexter. Isaiah Thomas scored eleven points on 4-11 shooting while Overton and Abdul Gaddy combined for just six points.
A school known of late for guards more than willing to attack and play at a frenetic pace, the UDub trio looked tentative for most of the night. UCLA's zone may have had something to do with that but to be in a lull for forty minutes can get you in trouble. Washington took 12 more shots from the field than the Bruins but fourteen fewer foul shots, a number that can be a tell-tale sign of not attacking the rim enough. And the foul line is where UCLA was able to hang around, outscoring the Huskies by seven points from the charity stripe. Washington may have just six losses thus far, but given a non-conference schedule that lacks marquee wins and the current state of the Pac-10, they need to go on a run and the sooner the better.
Three Key Happenings
1. Erving Walker leads Florida to an important road victory. A loss at Arkansas would have done more damage than the win did good in regards to the Gators' NCAA Tournament profile, but sometimes it's just as important to avoid stubbing your toe as it is to pick up those big wins. Thanks to the diminutive point guard from Brooklyn, the Gators left Fayetteville with a hard-fought 71-66 victory. Walker led the way with 27 points and four assists (no turnovers) while forwards Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons combined for 23 rebounds.
Four Razorbacks reached double figures with Rotnei Clarke's 17 leading the way but Florida was more effective in getting to the foul line, making twenty-one of twenty-six while Arkansas was just 12-for-17. That combined with the rebounding (41-29 Florida; 17 offensive rebounds) led to the Gators picking up their thirteenth win of the season, and with a non-conference strength of schedule ranking of 208 (according to ESPN's InsideRPI) they need to go on a run in SEC play. And that includes winning games they're expected to win.
2. A more efficient Jeremy Hazell leads Seton Hall to a win over Louisville. Watching the junior guard from Harlem could be one of the more fascinating things to do in college basketball due to his shot-making ability and range. But a more "boring" Jeremy Hazell could prove to be just the ticket for the Pirates as they hope to make a run in the Big East. Jeremy attempted just twelve shots last night but made nine on his way to 25 points in the Pirates' 80-77 win over the Cardinals at the Prudential Center. All five starters reached double figures as Seton Hall shot 52.7% from the field while Louisville made just 43.8% of their shots. If Seton Hall can bottle up this performance and remember the lessons look out because they've got some winnable games on the schedule.
But the ending wasn't without controversy as the Pirates made the game closer than it needed to be with missed free throws and turnovers. Keon Lawrence stepped over the end line before throwing the ball inbounds, and while Rick Pitino argued for a turnover the Pirates after the game said that they heard a whistle. Official Jim Burr simply pulled Lawrence back out of bounds and from there he inbounded the ball to Hazell, who was fouled. Should it have been a turnover? It certainly looked like it but all that matters at the final horn is the score. And with both teams in need of big wins as we approach March, it was Seton Hall who did more throughout the game to put themselves in position to win.
3. Keep an eye on Utah State in the WAC. The Aggies, who have played four of their first six WAC games on the road, moved to within one game of first-place Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State with a 69-43 win at Fresno State. The Bulldogs, who have now lost three straight league games, suffered a serious blow when leading scorer Paul George went down in the first half with a sprained ankle, and made just 28.6% of their shots on the night. Utah State finished with four players in double figures, including Brian Green with a game-high seventeen points off the bench. Stew Morrill's team, who shot 48% last night, annually ranks among the best field goal percentage teams in the nation and as they get to the back end of their WAC schedule and get to play more home games look out. The Aggies defend well and share the basketball (17 assists on 24 baskets), two keys to winning one's conference.
Top Three Games
1. New Mexico State 71, Hawaii 69 Jahmar Young's jumper with nine-tenths of a second left moved the Aggies into a first-place tie with Louisiana Tech in the WAC. Young led all scorers with 26 points while Roderick Flemings paced the Warriors with a double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds.
2. UCLA 62, Washington 61 See above.
3. Butler 48, Loyola (IL) 47 It wasn't the prettiest game offensively but a win's a win for the Bulldogs. Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack scored 12 points apiece and Willie Veasley's free throw with 34 seconds left moved Butler to 8-0 in the Horizon League. Walt Gibler led the Ramblers with 14 points.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Adrian Oliver (San Jose State) Oliver scored 39 points in leading the Spartans to an 87-76 win over previously undefeated (in league play) Louisiana Tech.
2. F Lazar Trifunovic (Radford) For all the talk about Artsiom Parakhouski, Trifunovic is no slouch himself. The native of Belgrade finished just two assists short of a triple-double with 27 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in the Highlanders' 109-91 win over VMI.
3. G Keion Bell (Pepperdine) Bell kept the Waves in their game at Gonzaga throughout, scoring 37 points and adding five rebounds, four assists and four steals in their 91-84 loss to the Bulldogs.