We figured Saturday would offer a theatrical and heavy collection of good games when we first perused the day’s schedule. But once Doug Sirmons ejected John Calipari two minutes, 26 seconds into Kentucky’s 89-62 victory at South Carolina, we knew.
By lunch, we had the day’s biggest story. Well, we thought we did.
Here’s a recap of Saturday’s festivities:
Most Important Performance by a Team that Wants You to Know It Still Runs the Big 12 -- Kansas over Oklahoma
Kansas lost three of its first four road games in league play. And, prior to its Saturday clash with Oklahoma in a rematch of “The Game,” we knew four of the Jayhawks' final seven matchups would commence on the road, where they have struggled in conference action.
Just like that, the team that had won 11 consecutive Big 12 championships no longer seemed insurmountable.
On Saturday, Kansas recorded a 76-72 win at Oklahoma. In that victory, the Jayhawks solidified a perennial and perpetual reality in the Big 12 that began the same year the first chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, “Batman Begins” was released (2005). And they did it with Frank Mason, whom Buddy Hield called his most challenging opposing defender, sidelined late by foul trouble. They did it with Buddy Hield being Buddy Hield (24 points, 5-for-11 from the 3-point line). They did it with Wayne Selden going 2-for-9 from the field. And they did it with Devonte’ Graham (27 points, 8-for-13) leading the way.
Yes, trips to Baylor and Texas remain on KU’s slate. And the Jayhawks will meet Iowa State in Lawrence in the regular-season finale. But a second win over Oklahoma, along with a split against West Virginia, did not change the constant narrative in the Big 12. The win confirmed it.
Maybe more chaos will come and another squad not named West Virginia will make the race more interesting. But it’s clear now, as it usually is in early February, that Kansas still runs the Big 12 and it remains the team to beat in the league.
Scariest performance by a team that didn’t have its head coach for nearly 38 minutes -- Kentucky over South Carolina
OK, Bad Kentucky lost at Tennessee and fell to Ohio State in New York. The Bad Wildcats -- not Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” but the dictionary’s -- also lost at Auburn. Those losses boosted the criticism of Lexington’s favorite program.
Some days, however, Kentucky the Monster shows up. And on those days, the Wildcats don’t look like a team you’d want your favorite squad to see in a first-round matchup in March. After Calipari was ejected 2:26 into Kentucky’s 89-62 victory at South Carolina, Tyler Ulis led his team on a furious 84-60 rally over the final 37:34 of the game. They responded in a key moment against a South Carolina team that has played good defense all season (.94 points per possession allowed, No. 24 nationally). Kentucky recorded 1.25 points per possession against Frank Martin’s Gamecocks.
Kentucky’s roller-coaster ride might continue. Maybe it will end with an early exit in the NCAA tournament. But the team that arrived in Columbia, South Carolina, on Saturday could handle the nation’s elite.
Best cost-saving victory (no need for a national search now) -- Wisconsin’s “interim” coach Greg Gard
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez could search for a permanent successor to officially replace Bo Ryan, who retired in December. But Greg Gard, the interim coach, just led Wisconsin to its seventh win in a row with Saturday’s 70-57 victory at No. 2 Maryland -- the second road win over a top-2 team in the program’s history. Wisconsin now looks like a tourney team after going 9-9 in its first 18 games and starting 1-4 in Big Ten play.
Alvarez should search for a new coach. But his best candidate already lives in Madison.
Gard should get the job. He has earned it.
Worst call in a weekend filled with bad calls -- Diamond Stone smashes another player’s head, stays in the game
Listen, player safety is significant. And NCAA rules state that a flagrant 2 foul “is a personal foul that involves contact with an opponent that is not only excessive, but also severe or extreme while the ball is live.” Late in the first half of Wisconsin’s win at Maryland, Stone smashed Vitto Brown’s head into the hardwood while he lay on the ground after a scramble for a loose ball. Stone drew a contact technical for his actions and Charlie Thomas, Brown’s teammate, also picked up a technical after he exchanged words with Stone.
But the bottom line is that Stone should have been ejected. What he did was excessive and dangerous. And if the folks in the Big Ten’s offices truly value player safety, they should take a hard look at Stone’s actions and consider further punishment. There is no room for that in college basketball.
Most important shot of the night -- Grayson Allen's buzzer-beating bank
Marial Shayok tried to stick with Grayson Allen in the final seconds of Duke’s 63-62 victory over No. 7 Virginia in Durham, North Carolina, but the sophomore shook him and hit the clutch shot that gave Duke some breathing room as it preps for this Wednesday's rivalry game at North Carolina. Wins over Louisville and Virginia have helped Duke (19-6, 8-4 ACC) recover from a tough 4-4 start in league play.
The night’s great anomaly -- Texas Tech beats Baylor … from the 3-point line
The Fighting Tubby Smiths entered Saturday’s 84-66 win over Baylor in Waco, Texas, averaging a 32 percent clip from the 3-point line. But they finished 9-for-16 (56 percent) from the 3-point line against the Bears. And now Texas Tech (RPI: 41 prior to Saturday’s win) should enter the bubble conversation.
Texas A&M lost at LSU 76-71 -- the Aggies' fourth consecutive loss and fifth in their past six games.
Oregon’s 76-72 loss at Stanford might have changed the Pac-12 race. Now, three Pac-12 teams have four losses (Arizona, Oregon and USC) and three teams have five losses (Colorado, Utah and California).