KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Mitch Ballock could have played just down the road at Kansas, close to where he grew up in the small town of Eudora, but he spurned the college hoops powerhouse to sign with Creighton.
He got a chance to put on a show for his boyhood fans anyway.
The freshman guard hit four 3-pointers and finished with 22 points, Marcus Foster overcame an early shooting slump to score 23, and the Bluejays beat No. 23 UCLA 100-89 on Monday night in the semifinals of the Hall of Fame Classic.
“It’s great that he did that tonight in Kansas City in front of his family and friends,” Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said, “but this is what we talked about when we recruited him, nights like this. We are ecstatic that he stuck with us. He has a bright future ahead.”
So do the Bluejays, who will play No. 25 Baylor or Wisconsin for the tournament title.
Khyri Thomas added 16 points and Ty-Shon Alexander had 12 for the Bluejays (4-0), who have won 12 straight in-season tournament games after titles at the MGM Grand Main Event and the Paradise Jam.
Aaron Holiday had 25 points and seven assists to lead the Bruins (3-1), who dealt with foul trouble much of the night. Prince Ali scored 18 points before fouling out, while Thomas Welsh had 16 points and 13 rebounds and Kris Wilkes scored 15.
“They’re really good, in particular offensively,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said. “They’re a lot of hard matchups and we’ve got some young guys playing, but this will be a good lesson.”
The teams traded runs in the first half, beginning with a 16-0 surge by the Bluejays that forced Alford to use two timeouts. UCLA countered with 10 consecutive points a few minutes later, and briefly took the lead 38-36 shortly before the break.
But the Bluejays scored seven straight to finish the half and then kept their roll going to start the second, pushing their advantage to 50-38 with 18:02 left to play.
“They used a zone that kind of threw us off a little bit,” Foster said, “because we’re so used to going up and down. We kind of adjusted to it — and Mitch did big for us.”
Ballock scored 10 of his 22 points during a 60-second stretch of the second half.
UCLA trimmed the lead to six on several occasions, but Alford’s youngsters kept squandering their chances. The Bruins twice were whistled for flagrant fouls down the stretch, giving Creighton two free throws and the ball, and they wasted possessions with some ill-advised shots.
Defensively, the Bruins could never string together stops.
“Offensively we clicked. That’s great,” Holiday said. “We just learned about playing hard defense.”
TRIO DOESN’T TRAVEL
The Bruins’ freshman trio of LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley remained suspended after they were accused of shoplifting on a trip to China. They are barred from suiting up or being on the bench and were not allowed to travel with the team to Kansas City.
Alford said he hasn’t paid any attention to the Twitter spat between President Donald Trump and Ball’s father, LaVar. Trump tweeted that he should have left the three UCLA players accused of shoplifting in China in jail after LaVar Ball minimized his involvement in their release. “My whole focus has been on Creighton,” Alford said. “That didn’t have one thing to do with how we guarded tonight.”
PAUL THE PRINCE
Paul Silas averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds his senior year at Creighton, and is clearly still a beloved figure there. When he was introduced along with the rest of this year’s Hall of Fame class during a first-half timeout, the 74-year-old Silas easily got the largest ovation.
UCLA looked shaky earlier this season when it squeaked past Georgia Tech and needed overtime to beat Central Arkansas. Facing an even more potent opponent, the same Bruins defense that surrendered 101 points to the Bears struggled to contain Creighton’s versatile offense in a high-scoring affair.
Creighton proved it can hang with the big boys, even when an opponent has a huge size advantage. Ballock’s hot outside shooting stretched the UCLA defense, allowing the rest of the Bluejays to attack off the dribble and get the Bruins into foul trouble.
UCLA plays for third place on Tuesday night.
Creighton plays for its third Hall of Fame Classic championship.
(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)