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NCAA Men: George Blagojevic in career-best form
George Blagojevic is in a rich vein of career-best form for Hartford as he earned America East Player of the Week honours, while Jesse Hunt, Kouat Noi and Dejan Vasiljevic maintained their momentum across the past week in college basketball.
Behind career-high's of 30 points and 15 rebounds for just his second double-double as a Hawk, George Blagojevic helped ensure that Hartford would dispatch Bryant 91-74. After taking the lead early on, the Hawks never trailed from that point forward as they rode the stellar interior play of their senior Aussie big man. The 6'8 forward from Geelong shot an efficient 11-14 from the field and 10-12 from the free throw line while also dishing out 3 assists in a dominant performance.
Blagojevic was not finished with that outing, proving that his big game was no once-off. Hartford were made to fight all the way, but they managed to hold off Oakland to register a second straight win. This time, their Aussie forward would pile on 24 points on 8-11 shooting and 8-11 from the charity stripe alongside 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals in another impressive display.
After averaging 27 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists to lead the Hawks to two straight wins, Blagojevic picked up his first ever America East Player of the Week award. The Victorian also shot a sizzling 76% from the field during the week, improving his season shooting to 54.2% to rank second in the conference while averaging 14.4 points and 8. rebounds per game. He is in the America East's top-15 in scoring (12th), rebounding (2nd), steals (17th) and blocked shots (14th) and has been one of the best performed Aussie forwards to date this season.
Eastern Washington's senior Aussie Jesse Hunt has also been enjoying his best college season, averaging 16 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Against Stanford, the West Australian poured in 27 points on 9-15 shooting with 4 rebounds and 3 assists. However despite his big game, the Eagles went down to the Cardinal 62-78. Team-mate Jack Perry added 6 points, while for Stanford, Isaac White came off the bench to add 5 points in 15 minutes for the winners. The Eagles led by 4 point at half time, but were overrun 51-30 in the run home.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, they would lose a sixth straight game, this time at home against South Dakota State 64-74. The Eagles have been playing without Aussie forward Mason Peatling who is yet to play a game this season, however is expected to return to action within the week. Hunt was again exception, going close to logging a first career triple-double with 8 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists. This time Perry stepped up to another level to contribute 14 points with 3 rebounds, but neither of the Aussie duo could help get the Eagles secure a much sought after second win of the season.
Saint Mary's split their two games across the week, falling short 74-78 to LSU before bouncing back to defeat Bucknell 85-56 to celebrate 500 career wins for head coach Randy Bennett who orchestrated the Aussie talent pipeline to Moraga. In both games, Jordan Hunter delivered the goods, providing 15 points and 6 rebounds against the Tigers. Fellow Aussie Tanner Krebs chimed in off the bench with 8 points in 26 minutes, but the Gaels could not find a way to edge ahead down the stretch. In the rebound win against the Bison, Hunter again added 15 points, this time with 7 rebounds and 2 assists, while Krebs went further with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists to ensure a big win at home.
Since making his season debut, Kouat Noi has quickly cemented his place in the main rotation and continues to make important contributions and the past week was no different as TCU extended their winning streak to five. In a 96-61 dismantling of USC, Noi came off the bench to play 25 minutes for 14 points and 6 rebounds in a strong outing. He backed it up to gather 10 points and 8 rebounds in 20 minutes as the Horned Frogs easily accounted for Indiana State 90-70. Now 8-1 on the season and with Noi now finding his groove, TCU is in a great position to head into the New Year without any further blemish.
Rounding out a big week for the Aussie forwards is Jack White whose Duke Blue Devils maintained their winning ways with a 61-point demolition of Princeton (101-50). White continues to be the glue that binds the star-studded line-up together, gathering 10 points on an efficient 3-4 shooting with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks as the Blue Devils inflicted the worst ever defeat on Princeton. Duke climbed back into #2 in the national rankings during the week, and looking in ominous form heading into the New Year.
Miami was back in action and were able to snap their four game losing streak courtesy of an 80-73 win against Houston Baptist. Junior guard Dejan Vasiljevic was one of the drivers behind the win, scoring on a lay-up before draining a three-pointer as part of 7-0 run in the second half that proved to be the catalyst for victory. Vasiljevic finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists with zero turnovers, but had a tough shooting night in which he made just 4-12 from the field and 3-10 from downtown.
Also breaking a losing streak was Makuach Maluach and the New Mexico Lobos, holding off Central Arkansas late to record a an 82-70 win. Sophomore guard Maluach delivered one of his most efficient scoring games in his career, draining 8-11 shots from the field including 4-6 from beyond the arc to compile a team-high 22 points with 7 rebounds and 2 assists as the Lobos ended their losing streak at thee. unfortunately for the Lobos, they would drop their next game against North Texas (65-74), with Maluach adding 9 points on 3-10 shooting as his hot-hand deserted him.
California Baptist made it two straight victories when they accounted for South East Louisiana 73-52, with Jordan Heading leading the way. The 6'2 senior guard from Adelaide punched his way to a game-high 24 points (10-17 FG) as his side controlled the contest throughout. Fellow Aussie team-mate Glen Morison added 2 points and 2 rebounds before fouling out in 11 minutes. The Lancers would make it three wins in a row when they held off Southern 79-76, with Heading finishing with 8 points and 4 assists, while Morison chimed in with 7 points and 2 rebounds off the bench.
South Australia's Jacob Rigoni's shooting stroke was on-song for Quinnipiac in their two games across the past week. The 6'6 wing connected on 4-10 from long-range to finish with a team-high 15 points, but the Bobcats were overrun by Drexel in the second half to go down 83-92 in a high-scoring game. He would again drain 4 three-pointers in their next game, an 87-63 win bounce-back win against Bethune-Cookman. Rigoni was one of six Bobcats to register double-digit scoring in gathering 12 points and 2 rebounds as Quinnipiac improved to 5-5 on the season and earn their third win at home.
Freshman guard Dragan Elkaz enjoyed a big outing for UC Riverside in a tough 56-68 loss to UTEP. The 6'5 sharpshooter dialled in from long distance 4 times en route to registering 15 points with 3 rebounds. However the Highlanders only had two players score in double figures and just did not have enough firepower to compete against the Miners. For Elkaz, it was a new career-high and the fifth time this season he had scored in double digits for the Highlanders.