It’s not even a surprise anymore. It’s come to be expected, such is the level of skill associated with James Harden, who put up 61 points on Friday night in a 111-105 win over rivals San Antonio. Coming off the back of 57 points in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, this was among his very best performances given that the Spurs had been on a major roll coming into the game. Gregg Popovich’s team had won nine of their last ten games, and still yet they sit in eighth in the Western Conference after back-to-back losses. This one, though, could have, would have been different if not for the otherworldly Harden. He hit nine three-pointers and had 27 points in the first quarter alone, but the Spurs kept coming back. And they led by six with four minutes left. That’s when Harden really went to work, leading a 13-2 run by nailing three treys is row. To sum it up, his coach, Mike D’Antoni, was asked how you stop him. He simply stated “I can sit him on the bench. That’s about it.” Period. End of statement.
In other NBA news, the Los Angeles Lakers’ misery was confirmed on Friday night. They will not be heading to the playoffs, marking the sixth straight year where that has been said. We’ve all known that this has been coming for a while now, but this is only confirmation of it as it has become mathematically official. The 111-106 loss at home to the Brooklyn Nets is only the 11th time in the history of the franchise that they have missed the postseason, underling the plight they are in currently. There is thought to be one way out of this hole: bringing in legitimate stars to surround LeBron James. Anything less is surely not enough.
Virginia came into Friday afternoon’s game with a point to prove after last year’s shocking debacle that saw them lose, as a #1 seed, to #16 seed UMBC, the first time a #1 had fallen in the very first round. On Friday, however, they looked tepid and scared. At least for a little while. But as time progressed, they grew more and more confident, cutting a rather sizable lead down to just six at half time. From there, it was all theirs as they ran out comfortable 71-56 winners. They allowed just 20 points in that entire second half and relied upon De’Andre Hunter’s 23 points. It was Gardner Webb’s very first tournament, and they definitely showed themselves well in the loss as a #16 seed.
It’s not been the most rocky of NCAA Tournaments thus far, with a lot of chalk and expected ‘upsets’ taking place, but the biggest one so far has been UC Irvine’s 70-64 win over Kansas State. The #13 seed Anteaters came into Friday’s game without a single win in a tournament ever. No NCAA wins and not even an NIT one. But they continued their fine end-of-season form to win against a Big 12 school that many would have assumed would just wipe them off the floor. Evan Leonard nailed two vital threes late in the game, part of a game-high 19 points, to help them advance to a match up against #12 seed Oregon on Sunday.