Duke’s Jahlil Okafor Shows off Passing and Post Moves in Win over UConn

Jahlil Okafor didn’t destroy UConn Thursday night. He picked them apart.

Duke’s lottery-bound freshman had a night that would bring a single joyous tear to Phil Jackson’s eye, dropping 12 points and snagging eight rebounds in a 66-56 win over the Huskies at the IZOD Center.

It was Okafor’s second-lowest scoring night of the season, but a review of the stat sheet doesn’t explain the carnage the freshman inflicted on Connecticut’s overmatched defense. 

Let’s start with the highlight-reel smut that was his baseline turn-and-burn on UConn’s Phillip Nolan. SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell uploaded a Vine of the move. Okafor grabbed an entry pass, saw the one-on-one matchup and took profane advantage of Nolan.

A less sexy but equally devastating part of Okafor’s arsenal continues to be his court vision. The 6’11” freshman routinely dropped balls into mismatches in the post against UConn, but his crowning moment came on a dish to Quinn Cook on the wing in the second half.

Okafor drove the lane and side-armed a Madison Bumgarner fastball into Cook’s waiting hands. 

Crabdribbles.com founder Scott Rafferty posted a Vine of the play.

Kyrie Irving, sitting courtside, gave the sequence a standing ovation.

This is how Okafor beats you—post play and awareness. He’s not a planet-devouring clean-up monster, a la Montrezl Harrell, but he hurts you by inciting double-teams and finding the open man. 

Thus, we have the Okafor Catch-22. Double-teams leave open shooters, one-on-one situations end with scorched earth in the paint. Pick your poison, college basketball. Okafor will be gone in a few months, but until then, he is your problem.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture filigree. 

 

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Nick Young Shows off Handles and Drains Jumper Versus Spurs; Kobe Is Impressed

Nick Young turned out to be the hero Friday night for the Los Angeles Lakers. His clutch three-pointer in overtime gave Los Angeles a 112-110 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

That’s not the only Swaggy P play that left Kobe Bryant impressed, however.

Early in the fourth quarter, Young showed off his handles by evading multiple Spurs defenders before nailing a jumper.

Kobe’s expression says it all.

[Vine]

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Nick Young Shows Off Handles and Drains Jumper Versus Spurs; Kobe Is Impresssed

Nick Young turned out to be the hero Friday night for the Los Angeles Lakers. His clutch three-pointer in overtime gave Los Angeles a 112-110 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

That’s not the only Swaggy P play that left Kobe Bryant impressed, however.

Early in the fourth quarter, Young showed off his handles by evading multiple Spurs defenders before nailing a jumper.

Kobe’s expression says it all.

[Vine]

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Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo Shows Off Length with Big 1-Handed Dunk vs. Mavs

Milwaukee Bucks guard Giannis Antetokounmpo is only in his second season in the league, but the 20-year-old has already made it quite clear that he knows how to use his length when he has the ball.

During Sunday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks, the 6’11″ Buck showed once again that his length makes him a dangerous offensive weapon. He received a pass while he was just behind the three-point line, took one dribble and exploded to the rim.

There’s not much a defender can do to stop that without committing a foul.

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Arizona’s Experience Shows Up When It Counts to Sink Strong Gonzaga

In the battle for West Coast supremacy, No. 3 Arizona’s veteran leaders helped snatch victory from the jaws of defeat as the Wildcats came from behind for a 66-63 win in overtime over No. 9 Gonzaga.

Junior power forward Brandon Ashley scored the final six points of regulation for Arizona. Senior T.J. McConnellnot exactly renowned for his scoring as much as his defense and distributingscored all six of Arizona’s points in overtime.

Business as usual for the Wildcats.

They have already used up about six of their nine lives in the first few weeks of the season to remain 8-0. Three times in the span of eight days, they were pushed to the brink by UC Irvine, Kansas State and San Diego State, butin the spirit of Jimmy V Weekthey survived and advanced.

At times on Saturday, it felt like we were watching a replay of their Maui Invitational championship win over San Diego State. In both cases, neither team led by more than six in a game with just 120 combined points at the end of regulation.

What it didn’t feel like, though, was a replay of last year’s round of 32 game between Arizona and Gonzaga.

The No. 1 seed Wildcats dominated the No. 8 seed Bulldogs in the tournament by a score of 84-61. However, things were clearly different with a healthy Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. for Gonzaga and no Nick Johnson or Aaron Gordon for Arizona. That duo combined for 35 points in the tournament game.

In the tournament, Arizona forced 21 turnovers, blocked eight shots and more or less had its way in the paint, shooting 53.2 percent (25-of-47) from two-point range.

This time around, nothing came easily for the Wildcats.

At the end of regulation, Gonzaga had only committed eight turnovers. (The Bulldogs coughed it up five times in overtime, but that shouldn’t completely nullify 40 strong minutes of ball control.) Arizona blocked one shot the entire game. And with Gonzaga packing in the lane on defense, every single two-point shot was contested.

For the first 36 minutes or so, these two teamsone a very strong preseason candidate to win the national championship and the other a mid-major that annually gets dismissed as a team that can’t win when it matters—looked like mirror images of each other.

If anything, Gonzaga was playing Arizona basketball better than Arizona. The Bulldogs were tenacious on the glass, massive in the defensive paint and relentless with their efforts to score from inside the arc.

But when the going got tough, the Wildcats got going.

And incredibly, they did so without getting much of anything on offense from the player who has practically already been crowned the Sixth Man of the Year.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson came into this game averaging 13.4 points per game, but he attempted just one shot over the final 30 minutes of play.

Don’t misconstrue that as a criticism of Hollis-Jefferson’s play on Saturday night. His impact was felt on the defensive end, where he and Brandon Ashley were switching on ball screens all night and frustrating the heck out of Pangos.

Gonzaga’s star point guard came into the game with five turnovers all season, but he committed four in this game while scoring just eight points on 10 field-goal attempts.

Four players scored in double figures for the Wildcats, but there’s no denying they won this game by playing outstanding defense and shutting down Pangos.

As Raphielle Johnson of NBC Sports noted in his game recap, “It was Arizona’s stifling defense and the late-game play of senior point guard T.J. McConnell that proved to be the differences.”

Stifling defense is the part of the game that comes with experience, and it’s where Arizona plays like one of the best teams in the country.

Anyone can get hot and immediately fit into an offense averaging 85 points per game, but holding opponents to 60.6 PPG (while playing at an average tempo) starts with veteran leadership and getting everyone to selflessly buy in.

The Wildcats don’t force a ton of turnovers, but they contest without overcommitting and (usually) dominating the defensive glass.

Gonzaga grabbed 35.1 percent of offensive rebounds in this gameworse than Arizona’s season average of 24.5 percent, according to KenPom.com (subscription required)but what the Wildcats lacked in defensive rebounding on Saturday they made up for by not biting on the head fakes of Kyle Wiltjer and Pangos.

They refused to get baited into silly fouls and remained in perfect position to defend the actual shots, ultimately limiting one of the most efficient offenses in the nation to a field-goal percentage of 39.7. Gonzaga entered the game shooting 54.5 percent and had not been held to less than 45.0 percent in a game.

At a certain point, though, it goes beyond the numbers and the X’s and O’s. Great defense puts Arizona in a position to win games, but the players still need to execute and actually come through in the clutchwhich they have been doing all year.

Kentucky has been more dominant and Duke has been exponentially prettier on offense, but what are those teams going to do when they suddenly find themselves in a tie game in the waning moments? Neither one has played a game decided by fewer than 10 points yet this season and might panic when faced with a tough situation.

But Arizona?

Playing one-possession games is right in the Wildcats’ wheelhouse. They thrive under pressure and continue to rise to the occasion. It’s the type of characteristic you can’t teach in practice or add via great recruiting.

It comes with experience. And it comes in handy in a trial by fire like the NCAA tournament.

These Wildcats have already been forged in the flames and are well-positioned in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the West region, with wins already over Gonzaga and San Diego State.

They’ll be ready for whatever challenges they face along the way.

 

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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Ohio State Basketball: Buckeyes’ Fight Back Shows That Young Squad Will Be Fine

It’s not very often that the losing team in a marquee nonconference showdown in college basketball is the one feeling better about itself in the aftermath.

That is exactly what happened after Ohio State’s 64-55 loss to Louisville.

The Cardinals led by as many as 19 points and looked ready to put the game away in the opening half. Ohio State shot an abysmal 23 percent in the opening 20 minutes and simply looked like it didn’t belong. Louisville’s full-court pressure was swarming to the ball and causing major problems, shots weren’t falling and Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell were enforcing their will on the game.

Then, things started to click for the Buckeyes.

They gradually cut the 19-point deficit to three with about a minute remaining. D’Angelo Russell’s efforts were key to the comeback as Shannon Scott sat next to Thad Matta, but Marc Loving also played very well until he fouled out. It was clear that Loving was Ohio State’s second option throughout the game.

It is a testament to the team as a whole and Matta’s coaching ability that Ohio State battled back like that.

There are plenty of silver linings from the loss that imply the Buckeyes will be fine in the long term, including Loving’s performance, considering how inconsistent he was a season ago. If he can develop into an offensive force, Ohio State will have yet another scoring option who can stretch the defense and battle inside the lane if necessary.

What’s more, this was the Buckeyes’ first road game of the season, and it could not have come at a much more hostile venue. The crowd may have shell-shocked Ohio State’s youngsters in the opening minutes, but it wasn’t a factor in the second half.

Look for Matta to use the entire experience as a learning opportunity. Sam Thompson certainly suggested as much after the game, as reported by Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors:

It’s our first time on the road, a lot of new guys, a lot of new faces that have never put this jersey on. We’ve just got to grow from it. We’ve got to come out more focused, we’ve got to come out with better execution and our minds have to be in the game from the jump. We can’t do the whole deal where we get down 20 and then start fighting. We’ve got to play from the jump. 

Part of that learning experience is giving young players without a lot of time at the collegiate level opportunities to prove themselves. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports noticed that Matta was doing exactly that:

Despite the learning experience, it was discouraging that Shannon Scott played so poorly.

He finished with three points on 1-of-7 shooting, tallied zero assists and sat out for large stretches of the second half as Russell ran the offense. The fact that the Buckeyes still almost won in the midst of their senior leader’s struggles says a lot about the depth and resiliency of the team. Scott will play much better in big atmospheres moving forward because he has been in those situations and games so often.

His teammates will be ready as well.

One under-the-radar player who impressed in Louisville was freshman Jae’Sean Tate. He established his presence in the second half by battling down low and finishing with seven rebounds. He plays much taller than his listed 6’4” height and kept a number of offensive possessions alive simply by hustling to the ball and boxing out his man.

If Ohio State can get scrappy and consistent efforts like that all season from Tate, rebounding won’t be nearly as much of an issue as it was a season ago.

While all of those silver linings should have Buckeyes fans excited for the future, Russell’s play was the best news for the program. Yes, he got off to an incredibly slow start, but he was not intimidated by the venue or the fact that he received plenty of boos from the crowd as a Louisville native who chose to go elsewhere.

In fact, Russell even motioned to the crowd at times and was playing with brash confidence in the final minutes. For stretches, it seemed like it was Russell against Louisville in the second half.

He did force the issue in the first half, and that was part of the reason the team fell behind by so much in the first place. However, he redeemed himself and finished with 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds on the night. He registered all seven of his team’s assists in the official box score.

Russell demonstrated his versatility when he ran the point throughout much of the second half and looked more than comfortable there. Having a second option behind Scott in case the senior struggles or find himself in foul trouble is critical to the overall dynamic of the team. 

Buckeyes fans may have pulled their hair out in the first half of the loss to Louisville, but the team’s willingness to fight and their overall resiliency should have those same fans feeling encouraged about what’s to come.

 

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Charles Barkley shows support for Ferguson grand jury decision

Former NBA star Charles Barkley recently made comments showing his support of the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown. Barkley called looters in Ferguson “scumbags,” and praised police officers who work in black neighborhoods.
In a radio interview with Philadelphia station 97.5 The Fanatic, host Mike Missanelli asked Barkley about the decision and why “black America” doesn’t trust the ruling.
“The true story came out from the grand jury testimony,” Barkley said, adding that he was aware of “key forensic evidence, and several black witnesses that supported Officer Darren Wilson’s story…” He continued, “I can’t believe anything I hear on television anymore. And, that’s why I don’t like talking about race issues with the media anymore, because [the media] love this stuff, and lead people to jump to conclusions. The media shouldn’t do that. They never do that when black people kill each other. ”
When talking about the

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Upset of No. 6 UNC shows ‘Butler Way’

They did it again: Butler tops No. 6 North Carolina for 2nd straight time, 74-66.

      
 

 

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Duke’s Okafor already shows ability to adapt

Stanford stifled Okafor’s scoring early, and the talented freshman didn’t try to force things.

      
 

 

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Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor already shows ability to adapt

Stanford stifled Okafor’s scoring early, and the talented freshman didn’t try to force things.

      
 

 

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