Had you told someone that UCLA lost to Portland the result likely wouldn't have registered much shock. The Pilots have already beaten Oregon and Eric Reveno's team is expected to be a challenger to Gonzaga in the WCC. But 74-47? Portland got off to a good start and their offensive efficiency combined with the Bruins' offensive ineptitude resulted in a game that got out of hand; the margin reached thirty points in the second half. Guards T.J. Campbell and Jared Stohl each scored fifteen points to lead the Pilots, who shot 11-for-20 from behind the arc and 54.2% from the field.
But the question in the aftermath of this result is how big will this win be for Portland at season's end? Name recognition aside, that's a tough question to answer "yes" until the Bruins improve offensively (Tyler Honeycutt should help in this area when he returns). UCLA doesn't have a "game changer" on offense; Malcolm Lee is the guy many have pointed to as that player but can he consistently create for both himself and others? If UCLA is to entertain thoughts of getting back to the tournament in an underwhelming Pac-10 that answer needs to be "yes".
Three Key Happenings
1. Oklahoma loses twice withing 24 hours. It's understood that the Sooners are young and it isn't easy to replace the Griffin brothers and point guard Austin Johnson. But against both San Diego and Houston Jeff Capel's team have suffered breakdowns on the defensive end of the floor. In the early hours of Thanksgiving it was Brandon Johnson who hit the Sooners for twenty-two points in the Toreros' 76-64 victory. San Diego won the battle on the boards 39-30, grabbing fifteen offensive rebounds.
Late Thursday it was Houston scoring fifty-three points in the second half to beat the Sooners 100-93; the Cougars can score but they're the kind of team that you should beat provided you get a couple of stops. Houston shot 46.2% from three (12-26), and the combo of Aubrey Coleman (27) and Kelvin Lewis (28) combined to score fifty-six points. There's a lot of talent in Norman but they're young; as they gain more experience the Sooners will recognize the value of defense and become a better team.
2. Minnesota picks up a solid win. The Golden Gophers were able to rely on their defense to knock off tenth-ranked Butler in the 76 Classic, holding the Bulldogs to 33.3% shooting from the field while also forcing twenty-one turnovers in the 82-73 victory. Starting point guard Al Nolen spent much of the second half on the bench with four fouls but Tubby Smith was able to get help from other sources while Butler wasn't as fortunate once Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward each picked up their fourth.
Damian Johnson led four Minnesota players in double figures with eighteen points and the Golden Gopher bench outscored Butler's reserves 46-8. Big man Colton Iverson added a double-double with thirteen points and eleven rebounds in the win. Butler usually keeps their poise in running their offense but that wasn't the case on Thursday, thanks in large part to a solid effort from Minnesota.
3. Texas A&M has a different indentity...and that's a good thing. The Aggies in recent years have been big-man oriented, not having the speed or perimeter depth needed to get past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. But Thursday's 69-60 win over #19 Clemson may be a piece of evidence that things have changed for Mark Turgeon's program. B.J. Holmes scored twenty points off the bench and while the Clemson pressure did force nineteen turnovers they weren't able to do enough to win the game. A&M was able to attack the basket with Holmes (11-12 FT) and Dash Harris, and without a post player who can be a feature offensive option the guards will need to take on more scoring responsibility. Thursday was a good step in that direction.
Top Three Games
1. #15 Michigan 83, Creighton 76 (OT) Manny Harris was impressive with 20 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds for the Wolverines, who survived in the extra session. And he also didn't leave the game, playing all forty-five minutes.
2. Alabama 79, Baylor 76 JaMychal Green led the Crimson Tide with 22 points and six rebounds and he was joined in carrying the scoring load by Mikhail Torrance (20) and Senario Hillman (15). Alabama will play Florida State in the semis of the Old Spice Classic.
3. Houston 100, Oklahoma 93 See above.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Manny Harris (Michigan) Harris went for 20 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds in Michigan's overtime win over Creighton. He'll lead the Wolverines against Marquette on Friday.
2. F/C Jason Love (Xavier) Love nearly went 20/20 against Marquette, scoring 21 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in the Musketeers' 71-61 loss to the Golden Eagles.
3. G Kelvin Lewis (Houston) Lewis scored 28 points, shooting 6-for-11 from behind the arc, in the Cougars' 100-93 win over Oklahoma in the Great Alaska Shootout.
Thoughts? Other standout performances? Feel free to post them below.