After rising into the top five of the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since November 2019 this week, No. 5 Kentucky validated its lofty ranking against one of college basketball's giant slayers on Saturday. The Wildcats escaped Alabama with a 66-55 victory just a week after the Crimson Tide beat then-No. 4 Baylor on the same floor.
Though unranked, Alabama (14-8, 4-5 SEC) also owns victories over No. 2 Gonzaga and No. 6 Houston this season, and it was clear the Wildcats (19-4, 8-2) were ready for a fight. Five players reached double figures for UK, led by freshman TyTy Washington's 15 and Oscar Tshiebwe's 10-point, 15-rebound double-double. But it was defense that kept the Wildcats ahead for the entire second half.
Alabama hit just 3 of 30 attempts from 3-point range and shot only 28% overall while posting a new season-low in points by 10. After closing within 41-37 at the 14:15 mark, Alabama didn't score for nearly five minutes as UK rattled off a 9-0 run. The Crimson Tide never got their deficit lower than nine the rest of the way.
Kentucky's showdown at Alabama was just one of Saturday's huge tilts. Here are some of the big winners and losers from the day.
Arizona State fans stormed the court late Saturday night after the Sun Devils knocked off No. 3 UCLA 87-84 in triple overtime. The outcome left the Bruins winless on their two-game trip to Arizona this week after they fell at No. 7 Arizona on Thursday night. With Arizona's win over USC and the Bruins' surprising loss against ASU, the Pac-12 race is Arizona's to lose. The Wildcats now own a two-game lead on UCLA after picking up victories over both the league's other ranked teams this week.
Winner: Gonzaga throttles BYU
Remember when BYU was ranked No. 12 earlier this season and regarded as a team that could potentially upset Gonzaga during WCC play? The No. 2 Bulldogs offered a reminder of just how distant that memory is on Saturday night as they crushed the Cougars 90-57 to sweep the regular-season series. Gonzaga (19-2, 8-0 WCC) led by as much as 38 at one point and held BYU star Alex Barcello to just nine points as the Cougars (17-8, 5-5) dropped their fourth straight. Freshman phenom Chet Holmgren led the way for the Zags with 20 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks.
Winner: Rutgers crushes Michigan State
Rutgers reached the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 1991 after also having a tournament-worthy team in 2020 amid the event's cancelation during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it's safe to say this has been among the best eras in program history. That's why it was disappointing to see the Scarlet Knights struggle early this season with losses against the likes of DePaul, Lafayette and Massachusetts. But if you thought Rutgers was going to recede back into oblivion, think again.
The Scarlet Knights crushed No. 13 Michigan State 84-63 on Saturday as six players reached double figures in a 61.5% shooting performance for the team. The victory improved Rutgers to 13-9 (7-5 Big Ten), which means this club has a great shot to finish .500 or better for a third consecutive season in Big Ten play. While Rutgers' No. 111 NET ranking entering the day means it likely still has a ways to go before entering the NCAA Tournament conversation, it's fun to see such a long-suffering program proving its legitimacy again after it also picked up a win over then-No. 1 Purdue earlier this season. The loss by Michigan State (17-5, 8-3) left Illinois as the only two-loss team in Big Ten play.
Winner: Kansas cruises by Baylor
Just a week after getting crushed at home by a college basketball power, Kansas responded with a resounding victory against another on Saturday in one of the most impressive performance of a busy Saturday in the sport. The No. 10 Jayhawks shredded No. 8 Baylor 83-59 to reassure anyone who may have doubted them after their 80-62 loss to Kentucky on the same court just seven days before. Kansas (19-3, 8-1 Big 12) held Baylor (19-4, 7-3) to just 29.6% shooting and held James Akinjo, the Bears' leading scorer, without a point on 11 attempts from the field. Akinjo has been dealing with a back injury, and guard Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer were each questionable for the game. Flagler played and led Baylor with 16 points, but Cryer was held out.
Even if they'd had Cryer, who is Baylor's best 3-point shooter and second-leading scorer, the Bears were in for a rough afternoon. Baylor scored the game's first basket, but Kansas scored the next 12 points and never relinquished the lead. The win gives the Jayhawks a two-game lead in the Big 12 standings on Baylor and Texas Tech.
Winner: Duke looks great
Forget about all the Coach K stuff. We've got coverage of the coach here and here. No. 9 Duke's 87-67 win over North Carolina shows how impressive the players are for the Blue Devils. Now that AJ Griffin has morphed into an absolute offensive firecracker, it's clear the Blue Devils are impressive enough to win a national championship. It won't be easy — not by any means with three true freshmen playing key roles. But for a young team to enter such a hostile environment at the Dean Dome and deliver a commanding wire-to-wire win, it suggests there isn't much of a ceiling. Griffin has turned in some gems recently, but his 27 points against the Tar Heels on 11 of 17 shooting was a career-high. Paolo Banchero wasn't even at his best and still finished with a double-double. That was a big-time environment, and a Duke team that is younger than most of the other national title contenders delivered a big-time performance.
Loser: LSU's spiral continues
No. 25 LSU mounted a furious second half comeback after trailing by 18 at halftime against Vanderbilt. But the Tigers came up short, losing 75-66 and have now dropped six of their last seven. For a team that was one 15-1 (3-1 SEC), it amounts to quite a downward spiral. Point guard Xavier Pinson was missing again against the Commodores (12-10, 4-6) as he continues to grapple with a knee injury, but the Tigers' issues seem to run deeper than his absence. LSU's is stout, but it entered Saturday's game ranked 13th in the SEC in scoring and Pinson alone cannot solve that problem.
Winner: Healthy Illinois routs Indiana
No. 18 Illinois outscored Indiana 32-11 over the game's final 12:43 to pick up an impressive 74-57 win at Indiana that shows how this Illini team may just now be Wisconsin on Wednesday, it's safe to say no one is playing better in the Big Ten. Now 17-5 (10-2 Big Ten), Illinois is in sole possession of first-place in the league standings with a massive showdown at Purdue looming Tuesday. As point guard Andre Curbelo continues finding his way amid a return from injury, Illinois may only get better from here.. Considering this week also included an 80-67 win at No. 11
Loser: Oklahoma's trajectory
Oklahoma entered its game against rival Oklahoma State clinging to a projected No. 11 seed for the NCAA Tournament in Jerry Palm's Bracketology. But after a 64-55 loss against the Cowboys, it's fair to wonder if the Sooners may be out of gas. An overhauled roster under first-year coach Porter Moser has had some nice moments, such as a 20-point neutral-site win over Arkansas in December. But OU (13-10, 3-7 Big 12) has now lost seven of its last eight with games against Texas Tech and Kansas coming next week. Meanwhile, the Cowboys (11-11, 4-6) continue to embrace their spoiler role amid a postseason ban.
Winner: Villanova's Eric Dixon bounces back
Villanova big man Eric Dixon didn't have his best game on Wednesday, as he went just 2 of 7 from the field in a loss at No. 24 Marquette. The redshirt sophomore made up for it Saturday in the Wildcats' 85-74 win against No. 17 UConn. Dixon topped his previous career-high by nine points while finishing with 24 points and 12 rebounds to lead the way for Villanova. His dominance inside keyed the Wildcats (17-6, 10-3 Big East) to a 46-30 edge in paint points against UConn (15-6, 6-4), which has now lost consecutive games for the first time this season. His performance was especially critical since Villanova was without second-leading scorer Justin Moore due to an ankle injury.
Loser: Villanova's ankles
While the display of offensive dominance from Dixon was great for Villanova, seeing redshirt senior guard Collin Gillespie exit due to an apparent ankle injury late in the second half was not. Gillespie didn't return after exiting at the 6:53 mark. Considering that Moore was also out, the Wildcats did well to close without him. But after Gillespie suffered a season-ending knee injury around this time last season, no one wants to contemplate a repeat of those circumstances.
Winner: Arizona takes care of business
Just two days removed from a big win over No. 3 UCLA, Arizona didn't have its best stuff early on Saturday against No. 19 USC. But the No. 7 Wildcats turned it on late for a 72-63 win to stay alone atop the Pac-12 standings. Arizona (19-2, 9-1 Pac-12) closed on an 18-3 run and held the Trojans (19-4, 9-4) without a field goal in the game's final 3:58. Azuolas Tubelis continued his resurgence for Arizona with 18 points and 11 rebounds after dealing with an ankle sprain suffered on Jan. 22 at Stanford.
Winner: DePaul upsets No. 21 Xavier
DePaul had just seven scholarship players for its game at No. 21 Xavier, but that didn't stop the Blue Demons from pulling off a 69-65 upset. Courvoisier McCauley led the way 21 points as DePaul picked up its second victory over a ranked team this season under first-year coach Tony Stubblefield. The Blue Demons are just 11-10 (2-9 Big East), but Saturday's win and last month's win over then-No. 20 Seton Hall are huge for a program that is just 7-37 in the Big East over the past three seasons.
Loser: Florida State keeps plummeting
If you rewind just three weeks, Florida State was in a different universe than the one it now inhabits after losing 68-60 at home against Wake Forest. When FSU won at Miami on Jan. 22, it improved to 13-5, had won eight of its last nine games and was 6-2 in ACC play. Since then, the Seminoles have lost four straight and are now 13-9 (6-6 ACC). Injuries to key front court players Malik Osborne and Naheem McLeod and redshirt senior guard Anthony Polite mean that a turnaround is no sure bet. FSU entered Saturday's defeat among the "First 4 Out" in Palm's Bracketology. If it manages to salvage an NCAA Tournament bid after yet another loss and amid all the injury issues, it will go down as one of the most underrated coaching jobs in coach Leonard Hamilton's legendary tenure.
Winner: Wake Forest's Jake LaRavia
Wake Forest has won six of its last seven and is now 19-5 (9-4 ACC), and Jake LaRavia is a major reason why. The 6-9 Indiana State transfer finished with 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting and added 13 rebounds to go with nine assists. The Demon Deacons may have found the steal of the year in the transfer portal in LaRavia, who was unranked as a high school prospect in the class of 2019.
Loser: Auburn struggles before escaping
The Tigers won, to be clear. But they did not look like the nation's No. 1 team in blowing a 15-point first half and needing late heroics to outlast Georgia 74-72. The Bulldogs (6-17, 1-9 SEC) have been one of the worst high-major teams in college basketball this season. Auburn was missing starting point guard Zep Jasper due to illness, but that's a not a loss that should have brought the Tigers to the brink of suffering what would likely have been college basketball's biggest upset of the season.
Winner: Texas Tech rallies
No. 14 Texas Tech trailed by nine late in the first half at West Virginia but rallied for a 60-53 win behind an absolutely stifling defense. The Mountaineers (13-9, 2-7 Big 12) made just 12.5% of their shot attempts in the second half — 4 of 32 — and went six and a half minutes without a field goal during a key stretch late in the second half. Texas Tech (18-5, 7-3) outscored WVU by 13 in the second half, despite hitting just 1 of 8 attempts from 3-point range. The Red Raiders are going to be a nightmare for whoever they face in the NCAA Tournament.
Loser: Purdue's defense
No. 4 Purdue and Michigan entered their meeting as the Big Ten's top scoring teams in league play and played those roles to perfection in the Boilermakers' 82-76 home win. Michigan shot 68.2% from the floor in the second half, but Purdue shot 60.9% in the half and held on for a wire-to-wire victory after leading 39-33 at halftime. There is no shame in a win, and Purdue stars Jaden Ivey and Trevion Williams were great again on Saturday. But defense remains a source of concern for Purdue (20-3, 9-3 Big Ten), and if the Boilermakers don't find a solution, their truly elite offense will have to be perfect. Tuesday's rematch with Illinois should be another thriller after Purdue won the first meeting 96-88 in double-overtime on Jan. 17.
Winner: Texas' defense
One defense that did not struggle on Saturday was that of the Texas Longhorns, who held Iowa State to just 18 points in the second half of a 63-41 victory. The Cyclones (16-7, 3-7) hit just 2 of 15 attempts from 3-point range and committed 18 turnovers, which Texas converted into a 24-2 edge in points off turnovers. It was a nice bounce-back for the Longhorns (17-6, 6-4) after an emotional 77-64 loss at Texas Tech on Tuesday. It was also a bit of revenge for Texas, which lost 79-70 at Iowa State on Jan. 15. This is a UT team with some apparent offensive limitations, but the defense is getting more consistent and will give first-year coach Chris Beard's squad a chance to make noise in March.
Loser: Louisville goes below .500
In its first two games after the end of Chris Mack's coaching tenure last month, Louisville put up an impressive fight, first in a 74-65 loss to Duke and then in a 90-83 overtime loss against North Carolina on Tuesday that featured some questionable officiating. But there was nothing impressive about the Cardinals' 92-69 loss at Syracuse on Saturday. All five of Syracuse's starters reached double figures, and the Orange knocked down eight 3-pointers in the first half to hand Louisville its fifth straight loss. The Cardinals (11-12, 5-8 ACC) now face an uphill climb to avoid finishing with a losing record for the first time since the 2000-01 season.
Florida won 62-57, so good for the Gators. But the game itself receives loser designation since the score upon the completion of regulation was 48-48. Perhaps an optimist could look at that and be encouraged by the relative offensive explosion of Florida scoring 14 points in overtime. In all seriousness, the win was critical for the Gators (15-8, 5-5 SEC), who entered the day as one of Palm's "Last 4 Out." But Saturday was the latest evidence of the fact that it's never pretty -- or particularly fun -- with Florida.
Loser: Penn State and Wisconsin
Wisconsin and Penn State set the game of basketball back roughly a century in the first half by scoring a combined 31 points in the first half. The Badgers took an 18-13 lead into the break, despite shooting 25.8% from the floor. That's because Penn State's 5 of 30 mark (16.7%) was even worse. Collectively, the two teams made 2 of 22 attempts from 3-point range. Thankfully, the second half was significantly less horrific as the Badgers squeaked out a 51-49 victory. Still, it was a game to forget — especially for Wisconsin star Johnny Davis, who finished 2 of 13 with a season-low four points. Just look at the score on this dunk that came midway through the first half.