Friday, February 14, 2014
Time for the season's closing arguments
By C.L. Brown
Bubbles can burst well before Selection Sunday.
And it’s that part of the schedule when it’s time for teams to make their closing arguments. Some will be haunted by wins they couldn’t claim or by taking losses they couldn’t afford. Others will be thankful for their NCAA tournament bids because of wins during their final regular-season push.
Minnesota’s 64-57 loss at Wisconsin certainly wasn’t a make-or-break game for the Gophers. Their body of work thus far should have them in the tournament. But they can’t afford to rest solely on what they’ve done to this point.
Since beating then-No. 9 Wisconsin at home on Jan. 22, the Gophers have lost four of their past five. With six games left, including consecutive games at Ohio State, Iowa at home and at Michigan, there’s still work to be done.
For starters, the Gophers could use a little more consistency. They had eight first-half turnovers, which helped the Badgers erase an early seven-point deficit and instead made Minnesota play catchup the rest of the game.
Ben Brust had 20 points to lead Wisconsin.
They nearly did it thanks to late 3s that helped cut a 15-point deficit down to five. But the Badgers, led by 20 points from guard Ben Brust and 15 from reserve forward Nigel Hayes, held on by making late free throws.
Colorado will get credit for how well it played earlier in the season including its marquee win over Kansas. But the Buffaloes’ record since senior guard Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a season-ending knee injury against Washington will also be considered.
They missed a chance to bolster their post-Dinwiddie resume by losing at UCLA 92-74. It seems the rash of injuries has caught up to Colorado. In addition to Dinwiddie, guard Tre'Shaun Fletcher is still out with a knee injury and forward Wesley Gordon missed a second game with a sprained ankle.
The Buffaloes had shown signs of improvement with Askia Booker, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson each picking up the slack scoring. But they couldn’t keep up with UCLA, which made eight of its first 12 3-point attempts en route to a 56-point outburst in the second half.
The loss to the Bruins snapped a three-game win streak, which all came at home. The Buffs close with four of their last six games on the road, including at Stanford and at California. But their home finale -- and last regular-season chance to make a splash -- is against No. 2 Arizona.
Missouri and Arkansas entered Thursday in similar positions. The Tigers squeezed by with an 86-85 win over the Razorbacks thanks to 25 points from Jabari Brown, including the game-winning jump hook.
The irony was Brown was trying to give the ball to Jordan Clarkson, who had a game-high 27 points, in the backcourt. Clarkson was heavily guarded by Mardracus Wade so Brown advanced the ball while Clarkson stayed behind. It was essentially a game of four-on-four when Brown took Rashad Madden one-on-one and scored in the paint.
Madden led five Arkansas scorers in double figures with a team-high 17 points but had a rough final 30 seconds. He had a turnover with a chance to put the Razorbacks up three with 23.9 seconds left. He had the final attempt, a running bank shot, that was too strong as time expired with both teams scrambling for a loose ball and Madden injured from a collision.
Arkansas is just 1-5 on the road this season, but will get LSU at home before the rematch at Kentucky to try and strengthen its case for a bid. Missouri, listed by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi as one of the first four out of the tournament, simply survives to Saturday when it will be tested all over again against Tennessee.
St. John’s could have been the biggest winner of the night simply by avoiding a bad loss. The Red Storm are trying to make a late charge into the NCAA tournament. They’ve won seven of their past eight games with the only loss a 63-60 heartbreaker to Creighton.
Center Chris Obekpa not only delivered the game-winning point in the clutch, he then swatted the ensuing inbounds pass that ran the clock down to 0.1 seconds, ensuring the Pirates would not have enough time to get a shot off.
St. John’s first win at Seton Hall since Feb. 15, 1998 came with great timing. It allowed the Red Storm to pull to .500 in the Big East and, more important, keeps their tournament hopes alive.