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NCAAB: Weekend Recap

NCAAB: Weekend Recap

Weekend Recap
The Gold Sheet

The college basketball weekend featured some upsets, as usual, although we can't recall a more unlikely one this season than Loyola-Chicago's stunning 71-67 win at 15th-ranked Butler Sunday afternoon.

The Ramblers certainly didn't fit the profile of a giant-killer entering Sunday's game at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Indeed, Loyola had lost five straight, all by double-digit margins, including a humbling 24-point loss at Valparaiso Friday night. A bipolar performance pattern from earlier in the season had been replaced by a series of Ls in recent weeks, as respected HC Jim Whitesell watched in horror as key components such as G J.R. Blount and swingman Justin Cerasoli (the main erratic culprit, shooting 2 for 17 from the floor in his previous two games, plus other 1 for 11, 1 for 9, and 1 for 7 shooting displays in Horizon League games) took turns going ice cold, and sometimes doing so in the same game. But despite Blount's 2 for 13 shooting against the Bulldogs, Loyola erupted behind freshman Jordan Hicks' career-high 23 points and a decent shooting night (for once) by Cerasoli, the former Seton Hall and Ole Miss transfer who hit 5 of 8 FGs. And for once, the Ramblers took a lead and never let go, although Butler erased all but two points of an 18-point deficit with a late rally before Loyola ended up a 4-point winner.

For the Bulldogs, it was a reminder that the team is still a young one and prone to the sort of meltdowns that cost it on Sunday. Teams such as Butler that live by the 3 can also die by it, as the Bulldogs found out by hitting only 6 of 26 triples vs. the Ramblers. Still, we had to like 32-year-old HC Brad Stevens' reaction to the defeat. "Everything I love about basketball happened tonight," said Stevens afterward. "It just didn't happen on our side."

Other winners and losers from the weekend:

LOSER: Davidson... Star G Stephen Curry suffered a sprained ankle in Saturday's win over Furman...need we say more? With the Wildcats' frontline playing inconsistently, HC Bob McKillop has relied more than ever on Curry, who entered Saturday's game as the nation's leading scorer at 29.0 ppg. Curry, who also took over PG duties this season after the graduation of Jason Richards, is reportedly on a day-to-day basis, but the severity of the sprain is likely to keep him out for a couple of weeks. The Wildcats, whose recent loss to College of Charleston proved they weren't unbeatable in conference play even with Curry, could prove an interesting test case for the NCAA Selection Committee if they lose a few more games without Curry and then fail to win their conference tournament, although the Committee usually takes key injuries into consideration (at least to a degree) when evaluating at-large candidates.

LOSER: Georgetown... The Hoyas put up a valiant fight Saturday at Syracuse, rallying from a late 10-point deficit to force overtime at the Carrier Dome. But a loss is a loss, and the eventual 98-94 setback vs. the Orange has given the Hoyas 8 defeats in their last 9 games and almost assuredly now requires them to win the Big East Tournament to return to the Big Dance.

LOSER: UCLA... After winning four in a row impressively vs. capable opposition at Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins were starting to dream about perhaps securing a top seed in the Big Dance. But a lost weekend in Arizona now has many wondering if UCLA could even drop below protected seed territory on Selection Sunday. The Bruins' offensive deficiencies were underlined vs. both Arizona State & Arizona, with the Wildcats in particular being able to fluster UCLA by speeding up the pace of the game to non-Ben Howland acceptance levels on Saturday.

LOSER: Florida... After looking as if they would roll through the SEC schedule and enter March with a tremendous head of steam, the Gators lost twice last week, with Saturday's shock 88-86 setback at previously winless-in-SEC-play Georgia the sort of "bad loss" that can impact seeding prospects on Selection Sunday. After dreaming of a protected seed last week, Florida is now looking more like an 7 or 8 seed in the Dance.

LOSER: Duke... We're starting to wonder how serious a national contender Duke might be after Sunday's 80-74 loss at Boston College. After being outclassed in the midweek Tobacco Road showdown vs. neighboring North Carolina, it is apparent that Coach K's crew cannot slow top scorers while playing a man-to-man defense (UNC's Ty Lawson burning the Blue Devils for 21 points in the second half alone last Wednesday) and are too weak in the post to compete with the likes of the Tar Heels or UConn. Duke has now lost 4 of its last 6 as it temporarily slips a line or two (perhaps down to a 4 seed?) in our latest "Bracketology" update, due Tuesday on these same pages!

LOSER: Northwestern... We still can't believe how the Wildcats let last Thursday's game get away from them vs. Illinois, when the Illini ended the game on a 17-2 run to steal a 60-59 verdict at Evanston. NU had earlier lost a home game in similar brutal fashion vs. Purdue. If that heartbreaker vs. Illinois wasn't bad enough, Bill Carmody's team then lost in overtime at home vs. Michigan on Sunday, assuredly eliminating the Cats from NCAA at-large consideration. The only way NU gets to the Big Dance this year is if it wins the Big Ten Tourney.

LOSER: Princeton... After looking like the Ivy's dominant team the week before with lopsided home wins over holder Cornell and Columbia, the Tigers were trounced at both Yale (while getting outrebounded 41-21 by the Eli) and Brown. Along the way, the Tigers relinquished the top spot in the Ivies to Cornell, which dispatched of Harvard (in easy fashion) and Dartmouth (in not-so-easy fashion) over the weekend.

WINNER: Kentucky... It was a must-win week for the Wildcats after a recent 3-game losing streak had put their NCAA hopes in serious jeopardy. But even with key 6-9 frontliner Patrick Patterson going down with an ankle injury in the second half in the midweek game vs. Florida, UK survived 68-65, and then without Patterson for the entire game Saturday at Arkansas still dominated the Razorbacks, 79-63. The explosive Jodie Meeks hit the game-winning triple vs. the Gators and then erupted for 45 against Arkansas, which dropped to 1-9 in SEC play.

WINNER: Kansas... After blowing a double-digit lead Monday night at Missouri, some wondered if Kansas' season might begin to unravel if the Jayhawks couldn't bounce back and beat hot Kansas State at Manhattan Saturday afternoon. Well, KU passed its test, rallying from a 43-42 halftime deficit to post an 85-74 win and give the program its 20th consecutive 20-win season. It was also KU's 25th win in its last 26 trips to Manhattan.

WINNER: Troy... Flying well under the national radar, but making noise in the Sun Belt, is rampaging Troy, which took over the top spot in the Belt East with an 87-82 win over previous leader Western Kentucky. Guard Brandon Hazzard poured in a game-high 35 points for the Trojans, who have now won 10 in a row.

WINNER: Boston College... The Eagles were teetering on the edge of falling out of the NCAA Tourney discussion before hosting Duke on Sunday afternoon. But BC's 80-74 win will likely provide a nice chip that Al Skinner's team can cash on Selection Sunday.

WINNER: Arizona... By defeating both USC and UCLA over the weekend, the Wildcats stretched their win streak to 7 games and for the moment have put themselves back on the right side of the Big Dance cut line. UA's "big three" of Chase Budinger, Nic Wise, and Jordan Hill tormented the Bruins and made Pac-10 observers wonder if interim HC Russ Pennell (who has said he don't want the job on a permanent basis) might yet end up as a serious candidate for the full-time position in Tucson.

Jodie Meeks, Kentucky...Meeks, who exploded for a school record 54 points in a 90-72 win at Tennessee Jan. 13, scored "only" 45 in Saturday's 79-63 UK win at Arkansas. That followed his game-winning triple in the final seconds of Tuesday night's 68-65 home win over Florida. Both results were much-needed for the Wildcats and have put them back into good position to secure another Big Dance bid.

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