College Hoops Player of the Day for Saturday, March 2, 2013
When Duke was blistered at Miami, 90-63, back on January 23, Ryan Kelly was wondering when he'd be back in the Blue Devil lineup as the 6'11" forward sat helplessly on the bench nursing a foot injury that had already sidelined him for two games.
On Saturday, Kelly returned to the Duke starting lineup. Most observers thought he could add some scoring, help the Blue Devils spread the floor and provide some minutes of solid defense. What they got from the senior was an effort for the ages, as Kelly responded with his best game as a collegian, scoring a career-high 36 points, leading Duke to a payback, 79-76, win that evened the score between the top two teams in the ACC.
For a player that hadn't seen game action in nearly two months, Kelly proved deadly accurate from anywhere on the floor, hitting 10 of 14 shots, including an incredible 7-for-9 mark from beyond the arc. He also canned seven of nine from the foul line and collected seven rebounds, an assists, a blocked shot and two steals, playing 32 minutes.
Beyond his scoring outburst being more than double his seasonal average, to do it with only a few days of practice and at the end of the long layoff speaks volumes about the senior's work ethic and coach Krzyzewski's fluid offensive system.
Miami did not make it easy on the Blue Devils, however, rallying late in the game to close the gap to three points, ending with a desperation heave from the corner by Rion Brown that would have tied the game, but clanged off the rim as the final horn sounded.
The result left the Hurricanes still comfortably atop the ACC standings with a 14-2 record - two better than Duke's 12-4 mark - but plenty to think about heading down the stretch and into the conference tourney. The Hurricanes need only to win one of two remaining games - both at home - to capture their first ACC regular season title. They face Georgia Tech this Wednesday and close out the schedule on Saturday against Clemson.
Duke hosts Virginia Tech on Tuesday before closing out their season at North Carolina on Saturday, March 9.
NOTABLE: Look for #12 Syracuse to continue sliding in the polls, losing their third straight game in a 58-53 home loss to #10 Louisville. The Orange had previously lost to Georgetown and Maquette in the past week.
#19 Memphis captured another Conference USA title, winning 76-67, at UCF to run their conference record to 14-0, three games better than second place Southern Miss (11-3) with just two games left to play. The Tigers had their 18-game winning streak - then the longest in college hoops - snapped this past Tuesday when Xavier got the better of them in a 64-62 upset.
The Atlantic-10 continues to be a hotbed of activity, though St. Louis seems to be above all of it, winning their 11th straight and maintaining their lead in the conference at one game with a 66-58 win at George Washington. The Billikens are being pursued by VCU, who hammered Butler on Saturday, trouncing the Bulldogs, 84-52, to remain just a game back. The Billikens have two tough contests remaining: at Xavier on Saturday and home against LaSalle - currently in third place, at 10-4 - on Saturday.
Life in the PAC-12 got even screwier on Saturday, as the UCLA Bruins upended #11 Arizona, 74-69. That sent the Wildcats tumbling to fourth place in the standings with an 11-6 record. UCLA tied Oregon at 12-4 to lead the conference with just two games left for both teams. Cal is squeezed into third place, at 12-5. They host Stanford on Wednesday to finish up their regular season.