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Saturday, January 14, 2012

College Hoops Schedule and Top Games - Cavs fall to Kobe

College Hoops
The Weekend Forecast
7 p.m. (ESPNU) Cleveland State (14-3, 4-1 Horizon) at Butler (9-8, 3-2)
It's a little early for Butler to begin its annual surge. Last season's didn't begin until early February following the Bulldogs' fourth loss in five games. Ironically, the comeback started with a win at Cleveland State. Butler is still not very pretty to watch (the team ranks 257th in the country in scoring, 305th in three-point percentage and 319th in free throw percentage), but you know it loves the rims in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Plus, the Bulldogs had six days to work on the problems that led them to lose at Detroit on Sunday.

Saturday, Jan. 14
Noon (ESPN) No. 2 Kentucky (16-1, 2-0 SEC) at Tennessee (8-7, 1-0)
This has all the makings of a trap game. Kentucky had to scrap to shake off a plucky but less-talented Auburn team on the road. Tennessee knocked off Florida at home last weekend and will be amped to do the same to UK. The reason I am still going with the Wildcats is mostly because of scheduling: the Volunteers had to play Thursday night at Mississippi State, where they lost by four. That's less than 48 hours to turn around for a noon tipoff. So I'll take UK by a slim margin, but if the Cats aren't ready to battle from the opening tip, they're gonna get clipped

4 p.m. (NBC Sports Network) No. 12 UNLV (16-2, 0-0 Mount. West) at No. 22 San Diego St. (14-2, 0-0)
Steve Fisher joked with his players that they needed a mulligan after struggling to beat winless Chicago State by eight points Tuesday night. But Fisher is the one who needs the mulligan. That was just the Aztecs' third game since Dec. 22, and the previous two were against non-Division II schools. That's why they were so flat against Chicago State. UNLV, on the other hand, has played a rigorous nonconference schedule, and the Runnin' Rebels are a mature, defensive-minded team that leads the Mountain West in both steals (8.7 per game) and blocks (5.1).

6 p.m. (ESPNU) Tennessee Tech (11-6, 3-1 OVC) at No. 15 Murray State (16-0, 4-0)
Yes, you heard correctly. On Twitter Wednesday night I promised that if Murray State entered the NCAA tournament undefeated, I will sing the national anthem at one of the Racers' home games next season (if they'll have me, that is). Fortunately for the United States of America, that will not come to pass. It's only a matter of time before the Racers either lose or will remain the only unbeaten team in the country -- in which case the attention, the pressure, and the law of averages will catch up to them. Still, I'm a big fan of this team and I like them to win this game because they're at home, but they better be ready against Tennessee Tech squad that boasts two of the OVC's top three scorers in Kevin Murphy and Jud Dillard.

11 a.m. (ESPN2) No. 17 UConn (13-3, 3-2 Big East) at Notre Dame (11-6, 3-1)
Shabazz Napier is supposed to be the stud sophomore point guard in this game, but he could learn a lot from Notre Dame's Jerian Grant (Harvey's son), who ranks sixth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio and is in the top 10 of the Big East in assists (4.5) and three-point percentage (38.9). Napier, on the other hand, struggled offensively even when UConn was coming back to beat West Virginia Tuesday night. He had zero points and four turnovers to go along with his eight assists. Still, I do think having Jim Calhoun back has helped the Huskies regain their defensive mojo, and as freshman center Andre Drummond improves with every outing (he had 20 points and 11 rebounds against the Mountaineers), this team will really begin to take off.

4 p.m. (SEC Network) Alabama (13-3, 2-0 SEC) at No. 20 Mississippi State (13-3, 0-1)
Give Mississippi State credit for gutting out a tough win over Tennessee Thursday night. The victory wasn't sealed until senior guard Dee Bost's steal and dunk in the closing seconds. It may have been an ugly win, but I like a team that knows how to win ugly. Alabama, meanwhile, won its fifth straight game Wednesday over LSU behind a season-high 20 points from Trevor Releford. The Crimson Tide also got a surprising lift from the return of 6-foot-4 junior Andrew Steele, who has rejoined the team after sitting out the first 13 games because of concussion syndrome. The bottom line is this is a conference game between comparable teams. I'll take the one playing at home.

3:30 p.m. (CBS) Oregon (12-5, 3-2 Pac 12) at Arizona (12-5, 3-1)
Arizona is fortunate that its third-leading scorer, 6-3 senior Kyle Fogg, is playing this game. Fogg nearly instigated a Xavier-Cincy-like brawl when he woofed in the face of Oregon State guard Jared Cunningham during overtime of the team's Thursday night victory. Fogg was ejected, but he'll play against the Ducks because he didn't throw any punches. The Wildcats are having a hard enough time putting points on the board (they're ranked eighth in the Pac 12 in scoring at 69.2 ppg) without losing their poise when they do. I think they'll win at home against an Oregon team that has lost two of its last three, even though Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph has brought an additional 15.1 points per game since becoming eligible in mid-December.

4 p.m. (Fox Sports Network) Colorado (11-5, 3-1) at Stanford (14-3, 4-1)
If this was the week where Colorado has a chance to prove that it's real, then the Buffaloes are off to a decent start. It's not easy to go into Haas Pavilion and win right now, but Colorado took Cal down to the wire before losing by seven. This is a very tough defensive team that boasts the nation's fourth-leading rebounder (Andre Roberson) and leads the Pac-12 in defensive field goal percentage. I expect CU's next game to play out the same way its last one did: The Buffs will compete hard, keep it close, but eventually go down to defeat.

Sunday, Jan. 15
4:30 p.m. (CBS) No. 7 Indiana (15-2, 3-2 Big Ten) at No. 5 Ohio State (15-3, 3-2)
Indiana was bound to come back to earth, right? The Hoosiers looked mentally drained during their loss at home to Minnesota Thursday night, although they did wake up in the last few minutes and nearly came back to win. Their week isn't getting any easier. They have to travel to Columbus to play an Ohio State team that has double incentive -- its loss at Illinois on Wednesday and its loss to Indiana in Assembly Hall on New Year's Eve. Further, Ohio State won't have to worry about defending Illini guard Brandon Paul, who torched them 43 points. Ohio State needs to tighten up its D because this isn't the greatest outside shooting team, but given all these circumstances it's hard to imagine the Buckeyes not finding a way to win.

4 p.m. (ACC Network) Georgia Tech (8-8, 1-1 ACC) at Maryland (11-4, 1-1)
Mark Turgeon earned his first ACC victory Wednesday night when the Terps beat Wake Forest at home. Protecting homecourt is an absolute must if Maryland is going to have any shot of making the NCAA tournament, so I expect the Terps will do it again. Maryland got 20 points from sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin, but at some point the Terps are going to have to get more offensive output from newly added 7-1 freshman Alex Len, who is still getting into game shape and managed just five points against the Demon Deacons. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, is coming in with some confidence. The Yellow Jackets nearly knocked off Duke last weekend and snapped a four-game losing streak at N.C. State Wednesday night behind 22 points from Glen Rice Jr.

Cavs play well, but fall to Kobe

Kobe goes for 40-plus again as Lakers beat Cavs
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Even Kobe Bryant has to acknowledge he's on his most impressive scoring tear in a half-decade, decimating opponents' defenses with the flair and determination of the Los Angeles Lakers superstar's best seasons.
And he's got a little more bad news for the Cleveland Cavaliers and every other opponent in his way.
That severely injured wrist on his shooting hand? It's starting to heal.
Bryant scored 42 points in his third straight 40-point performance, and the Lakers blew a big early lead before hanging on for their fifth straight victory, 97-92 over Cleveland on Friday night.
Bryant managed just seven points in the fourth quarter, but two big jumpers down the stretch gave him three straight 40-point games for the first time since March 2007, when he had five straight. With just three of his teammates managing more than one field goal, the 13-time All-Star guard did most of the Lakers' heavy lifting despite that torn ligament in his right wrist - an injury that would require most players to shut it down for a stretch.
Nobody is shutting down Kobe, who has scored at least 30 points in seven of his last eight games.
"The wrist is feeling stronger, feeling more comfortable," Bryant said. "It's just motivation. Nobody wants to hear about a bad wrist as being the reason why I had a bad game. Nobody wants to hear excuses."
None necessary: Bryant is third in NBA history with 110 40-point games, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan.
Pau Gasol had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who won their eighth consecutive game at Staples Center since Christmas. Until Bryant took charge, Los Angeles allowed a 19-point lead to dwindle to three in the final minutes of coach Mike Brown's first meeting with the Cavaliers since they fired him in 2010.
"We have to make sure we keep executing offensively so we don't need to rely on (Bryant) so much," Brown said. "It's good to have a guy like Kobe Bryant in your pocket."
Kyrie Irving scored 21 points and Ramon Sessions added 12 for the Cavaliers, who have played eight of their first 11 games on the road. Cleveland foundered in the first half before rallying impressively in the second half, avoiding anything close to the embarrassment of last season's 112-57 debacle at Staples Center.
Daniel Gibson missed a 3-pointer that could have tied it for Cleveland with less than seven minutes to play, and the Lakers missed 11 of their first 12 shots in the fourth before Bryant's 18-footer with 4:02 left. The Cavs had absolutely no answer for Bryant, who went 15 for 31 with four 3-pointers and six turnovers, often dominating the ball while his teammates were listless.
"He's seen every defense that you can throw at him," said Cavs coach Byron Scott, the longtime Lakers guard. "He's one of the smartest players I've been around, and one of the most competitive. So I don't know if it's better for us if he's taking most of the shots and the other guys are getting less, or if he's taking less shots and they're getting more. I don't know. He's just a threat when he's on the basketball court, no matter what."
Andrew Bynum had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Matt Barnes added 15 points for the Lakers, who finished the first half with an 18-3 run for an 18-point halftime lead. Los Angeles led by 12 points heading to the fourth quarter, but missed its first eight shots and failed to score for more than six minutes, allowing the Cavaliers to pull within one basket of an even game.
"It shows a lot about the character of our team," Cleveland forward Omri Casspi said. "We didn't let it get out of hand. We just wanted to keep our composure, keep playing defense and share the ball on offense, and we knew good things would happen for us. Our guys kept fighting, but in the last 4 minutes, they had a big run."
Just seven players scored for Brown, who rested Metta World Peace and didn't have the services of backup point guard Steve Blake, who has broken cartilage in his ribs. During the fourth quarter, the Lakers announced Blake will be sidelined three to four weeks.
Derek Fisher had 10 assists for the Lakers, getting double-digit assists for just the 15th time in the point guard's 16-year career. Rookie Darius Morris also played 17 minutes in his second career game.
NOTES: Brown said he harbors no hard feelings toward the Cavs and owner Dan Gilbert, who fired him after five successful seasons ended without a championship. ... The Lakers said World Peace is struggling with back spasms and an Achilles' tendon problem, although he wasn't listed on the pregame injury report. ... Lakers F Josh McRoberts returned from a six-game absence with a sprained big toe, but played just 4 first-half minutes. F Troy Murphy also returned from an illness, and Jason Kapono returned from a two-game absence while his wife gave birth to twins. ... Fans included Adam Sandler, Tobey Maguire, Joe Walsh, A.C. Green.

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