NCAA Men: Aussie big men the centre of attention

Aussie big men continued to capture the attention of the college basketball world this past week, with Jock Landale, Jo Lual-Acuil Jr and Duop Reath all delivering massive performances, albeit with mixed results.

Saint Mary's Gaels have opened West Coast Conference play in ominous form, winning both their games behind stellar performances from star centre Jock Landale.

Loyola Marymount proved no match for the Gaels and they certainly had no answer to Landale, as the Melburnian compiled a dominant 21 points (9-15 FG) and 9 rebounds in leading his side to a 59-87 victory. The Gaels offense was super-efficient, scoring at 62% from the field, 62.5% from downtown and from beyond the arc and 78.9% from the charity stripe. Emmett Naar was also very good, dishing out 8 assists with 4 points and 3 rebounds and 3 blocks, with Tanner Krebs chiming in with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

The Gaels then traveled to Brigham Young (BYU) to play in front of their hostile home crowd. BYU took it right up to the Gaels too, with their defense throwing the visitors offense out of sync early. The Gael's hot-shooting was stymied, but there was one constant throughout; Landale. The 6'11 senior centre was an unstoppable force in the post, shooting a scintillating 13-15 from the field as he sky-hooked his way to a game-high 31 points. He also pulled down 13 rebounds alongside 2 steals and 2 blocks, clocking up his eighth double-double of the season, his seventh across his past 9 games, having scored in double figures in his last 22 games. As good as Landale was, BYU remained in the contest, with neither side able to take their chances to win the game in regulation.

In the extra period, Landale started off strongly, and when Emmett Naar drained a triple, the Gaels were in firm control, running out to a 74-64 road win. Naar managed to compile 12 points (2-3 3PT) and 10 assists, but committed an uncharacteristic 6 turnovers. He is now second in the nation for assists, handing out 9.2 dimes per game. Krebs finished strongly too, adding 9 points on 3-9 three-pointers and 5 rebounds.

Landale capped off his big week by picking up his second straight WCC Player of the Week award, his third for the season. According to ESPN InSider, Landale has moved up to be ranked the sixth best player in college basketball, up one place from seventh in their pre-season list.

Kouat Noi continued his emergence with #16 Texas Christian (TCU) coming off the bench to provide 14 points including an impressive 4-6 three-pointers as he went close to registering a double-double with 9 rebounds. However the Horned Frogs' run of 17 straight wins-- the longest streak in the nation-- came to a heart-breaking end at the hands of #12 Oklahoma. After starting slowly, TCU would give up a 13 point second half lead as the Sooners edged ahead late to win 90-89 behind Trae Young's massive 39 points and 14 assist performance.

TCU would look to return to their winning ways against Baylor in a contest featuring Australian's on both sides. It proved to be a hotly contested battle, with both Jo Lual-Acuil Jr (Baylor) and Noi playing leading roles. TCU gained the upper hand and looked like they may cruise to victory. However they let slip a 12 point second half lead, with Baylor going on a 14-0 run to make things interesting. Down the stretch, the Bears tied the game up with 17 seconds left, but TCU's potential game-winner came up short to send the game into overtime. TCU would pull away late in the extra period, with Noi's fast break slam in the dying moments icing the game, 81-78.

For TCU, Noi came off the bench to provide 9 points and 4 rebounds in 23 minutes, solidifying the freshman's 6th man role. Baylor's 7'0 center Lual-Acuil Jr was a mountain in the middle, the big man pouring in a game-high 28 points on 12-20 shooting. He also pulled down 11 rebounds and swatted 2 shots in another commanding performance, and almost helped the Bears steal a big road win.

In a New Year's Eve clash, Bryant looked to secure just their second win of the season against St. Francis (PA). The Bulldogs led by 9 with under 10 minutes left to play in regulation before St. Francis stole the lead in the final 2 minutes. When time expired, nothing separated either side, requiring an extra period. Bosko Kostur was brilliant for the Bulldogs, however they ran out of legs as St. Francis edged ahead 86-82. Kostur drained 5-10 from distance on his way to gathering a team-best 23 points with 10 rebound double-double. The Bulldogs went close, but could not prevent losing their tenth straight game.

UC Davis saw out 2017 with a straightforward 62-89 victory over Division II school Holy Names. Chima Moneke was again the star of the show for the Aggies, kick-starting the game with a jumper, dunk and then a traditional three-point play to spark his side to an 11-0 lead. The Canberra star would finish the game with 19 points on 7-10 shooting and 5 rebounds in playing just 15 minutes. Yes 15 minutes, as the Aggies spread the load in the lop-sided contest.

Playing on the big stage against #17 Kentucky, Duop Reath stepped up to deliver a big-time performance that had Wildcats coach John Calipari speaking glowingly of the 6'10 Aussie forward in the post-match conference.

"We didn't have an answer [for Reath]", Calipari said after the game. "They weren't even running things, just threw it in to him...He dominated us around the goal."

Reath imposed himself on the game and registered an impressive double-double. He amassed a game-high 24 points on an amazing 11-17 shooting, alongside 11 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. His big outing had LSU poised for a big upset, with the Tigers up 5 points at the main break. Yet Kentucky would regroup and find a way to win, coming up with some big free throws down the stretch to prevail 74-71. LSU is enjoying a revival this season, and is currently boasting a 9-4 overall record despite dropping their opening conference game.

Deng Adel's run of double-digit scoring games shows no signs of slowing, as the 6'7 junior wing added two more games to his resume across the past week. In Louisville's 60-91 reality check against #17 Kentucky, Adel went 4-12 from the field for 13 points with 4 rebounds and 3 assists. The Cardinals shot just 34.8% from the field and a woeful 3-24 from beyond the arc, as Kentucky took full advantage in a game Louisville will want to put behind them quickly.

Louisville bounced back to dispatch Pittsburgh 55-71 in a better showing to open ACC play. Adel would this time go 5-8 from the field to tally 12 points alongside 6 rebounds and 2 assists as the Cardinals had four players register double-digit scores in the big win over Pitt. #25 ranked Clemson will prove a sterner test in their next hit-out.

finishing the year off with a bang was Jack Purchase and the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Purchase went off like a fire-cracker, dialing long distance 6-9 times on his way to recording a season-best 22 points as Hawaii knocked off Howard 59-84. The 6'9 forward ended the game shooting 8-13 from the field with 4 rebounds and 2 assists, sparking the Rainbow Warriors second half run that resulted in the big win.

Jesse Hunt make it three straight games of scoring 16 points or more in Eastern Washington's games against Northern Colorado and North Dakota. In the Eagles' 75-88 loss to Northern Colorado, Hunt compiled 16 points (2-2 3PT) with 8 rebounds and a massive 4 blocked shots. Jack Perry stepped up for 5 points and 4 assists, but the Eastern Washington interior dominance, being out-rebounded 29-37, and giving up 18-23 from the charity stripe compared to their own 9-11.

The 6'7 junior forward then delivered an almost carbon copy performance, although this time it was a 77-64 victory against the Fighting Hawks. In collecting 16 points yet again, Hunt went 5-10 from the field (2-4 3PT), and adding 8 rebounds before fouling out in 29 minutes. The Eagles led 42-26 at the main break, managing to withstand a second half surge to record a 13 point win.

Eastern Washington also this week received a verbal commitment from Class of 2019 wing Tyler Robertson. The 6'6 Victorian and Australian junior team representative is a huge get by the Eagles, and is sure to add some much-needed depth and class to the Eagles roster upon his arrival.

Senior guard Sam McDaniel delivered a game-high 19 points but Louisiana Monroe lost to Little Rock 62-71 to drop to 0-2 in Sun Belt Conference play. Trailing by 13 points at half time, McDaniel's triple helped trim the margin to just 2 on the back of a 13-3 run. Little Rock steadied, and went on to win by 9 points. McDaniel shot 5-13 from the field, including 3-5 from long-range, adding 7 rebounds in 37 minutes. Fellow Aussie Sam Alabakis chimed in with 7 points on 3-3 shooting with 3 rebounds.

South Australian Jacob Rigoni backed up his hot-shooting performance against Vermont with another very good display as Quinnipiac held off Monmouth 76-78 in a thriller. With ice in his veins, Rigoni connected on three massive three-pointers across the final 10 minutes to ensure the Bobcats were able to keep their noses in front. The 6'6 freshman guard finished by draining a sizzling 6-7 treys for 18 points and 2 assists, playing a vital role in ensuring Quinnipiac opened the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with a win.