UNITED CENTER- The CBS Sports Classic has been around since 2014 and every year it has featured the same four college basketball teams; the Ohio State Buckeyes, Kentucky Wildcats, UCLA Bruins, and the North Carolina Tar Heels. Each year the matchups alternate and thus far every event has been played in a major city. This is the second time that the United Center has hosted the event (2014 was the first time). The other cities involved have been Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Brooklyn, New York.
This year three of the four participating teams are ranked in the Top 25. The purpose of the CBS Sports Classic is to bring four major programs against one another at big venues in games that we normally wouldn’t see until the NCAA Tournament. It also puts the national spotlight on Chicago and I’m sure the coaches try to do some recruiting in town as well. Here’s how this year’s CBS Sports Classic turned out…..
This game started out as a back and forth affair. Both teams were matching each other almost shot for shot as there were four ties and seven lead changes in just the first 20 minutes. The Buckeyes (11-1, 1-0 B1G) had a slim 33-30 lead at halftime despite making just 36-percent of their shots. But when the second half began they managed to get it together.
They outscored the Bruins (7-5, 0-0 Pac-12) 47-36 in the second half to go back to Columbus with a huge win. OSU Senior guard C.J. Jackson led all scorers with 22 points, 18 of which came in the second half. Sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson was right behind him with 15 points and 12 rebounds. UCLA was led by sophomore guard Kris Wilkes who scored 18 on 7-of-18 field goals.
“I thought (Ohio State) was obviously a very good team, they do a lot of good things both offensively and defensively,” said UCLA head coach Steve Alford after the game.
The Bruins get a few days off before returning home to finish their non-conference slate against Liberty next Saturday.
“I’m proud of the effort of our guys, particularly in the second half,” said Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann in his post-game press conference.
The Buckeyes are now 2-0 at the United Center this season. They defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini in this same building back on December 5th, and they can add to that record when they return to the UC for the Big Ten Tournament in March. Next up for OSU is their non-conference finale against High Point next Saturday. The Buckeyes return to Big Ten play against Michigan State on January 5th, while UCLA begins the Pac-12 portion of their schedule against Stanford on January 3rd.
The Wildcats (9-2, 0-0 SEC) pretty much led this one from start to finish. Kentucky was hitting their shots right off the bat and played some solid defense as well. Fans from both teams represented the schools quite well as the United Center only had a few empty seats in the upper deck in game two of the CBS Sports Classic. This game was the louder of the two games as even I had to cover my ears at various points of the afternoon.
The Tar Heels (8-3, 0-0 ACC) fought back in the second half and managed to outscore UK 41-40. But they every time they’d get within seven points or less, Kentucky would either make a big defensive stop or hit a big shot to widen the gap again. In the end the Wildcats were firing on all cylanders and have now won three of their last four games. The Tar Heels see their two-game winning streak come to an end.
“The Big Blue Nation is the best fan base in the nation, the way they travel with us is amazing,” said Wildcats freshman guard Tyler Herro about the huge Kentucky presence at the United Center.
“I want this to be player driven team, I don’t want this to be a coach driven team,” added head coach John Calipari about one of his more inexperienced teams during his UK tenure.
Calipari’s message came through loud and clear as four of his five starters finished in double figures. Herro finished with 15 points and five assists, freshman guard Keldon Johnson had a game-high 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting, graduate transfer forward Reid Travis (who came from Stanford in the offseason) added 20 points and 11 rebounds, while sophomore forward P.J. Washington pitched in 11 points two blocked shots. Freshman guard Ashton Hagans was big on the defensive side for Kentucky as he had seven steals, three blocks, and four rebounds.
The Wildcats will get some holiday time off before traveling to Louisville for their final non-conference game of the year on December 29th. The Cardinals are UK’s biggest rival outside of the Southeastern Conference. They begin SEC play at Alabama on January 5th. North Carolina’s fanbase also had a strong presence, and they made their voices heard every time senior forward Luke Maye touched the ball by chanting his name. Maye finished the game with 16 points and six boards.
Senior guard Cameron Johnson led the Tar Heels with 17 points, fellow guard Kenny Williams had 11 points and five assists, while guard Coby White and forward Garrison Brooks combined for 15 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists.
“(Kentucky) made some shots when they needed them, and we just couldn’t make the plays that we needed to make,” said Maye after the game.
UNC has two more non-conference matchups at home against Davidson (Dec. 29) and Harvard (Jan. 2) before opening Atlantic Coast Conference play with a road trip to Pittsburgh (Jan. 5).
My hope would be that this event comes back to Chicago in the near future as next year’s CBS Sports Classic will be back in Las Vegas. In these two games, we saw four of the most successful programs and the most passionate fanbases in college basketball. It offers a huge opportunity for Chicago area fans to experience these atmospheres in person as opposed to just watching on television.