#876 University of Kentucky Wildcatsvs.#875 University of California, Los Angeles Bruins
Friday, March 3 2017, at 9:35pm EDT
Written by Chris Kubala
#8 UCLA Bruins (31-4 SU, 17-18 ATS, 16-17-2 O/U) vs. #9 Kentucky Wildcats (31-5 SU, 18-17-1 ATS, 17-19 O/U)
NCAAB: Friday, March 24, 2017, FedExForum, Memphis, Tennessee, 9:39 pm ET
Spread: UCLA -1, Over/Under: 168.5
It’s a marquee matchup in the Volunteer State as the NCAA Tournament rolls on. The third-seeded UCLA Bruins battle the second-seeded Kentucky Wildcats in a Sweet 16 matchup in the South Region Friday night. UCLA advanced after knocking off sixth-seeded Cincinnati 79-67 in the second round Sunday night. Kentucky won a tough battle with seventh-seeded Wichita State, 65-62, to win their 13th straight game. The teams have split the last eight meetings dating back to 1998 with UCLA taking a 97-92 road win in the most recent tilt on December 3, 2016.
UCLA beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena back in December: they’ll look to beat the Wildcats for the second time this season here. The Bruins handled the stingy defense of Cincinnati and won despite not breaking the 80 point mark. UCLA trailed by three at the half before outscoring Cincinnati 49-34 the rest of the way. The Bruins shot an even 50 percent from the floor and drained 11 of 28 three point attempts in the contest. UCLA had 21 assists on 31 field goals while committing just three turnovers in the win. Lonzo Ball had 18 points, seven rebounds and nine assists to lead five Bruins in double figures in the victory.
The Bruins are tops in the nation in scoring offense as they pile up 90.2 points per game. UCLA is 39th in rebounding with 38.8 per game and are tops in the nation with 21.6 assists per game. The Bruins do have some work to do defensively as they are 252nd in scoring defense, allowing 75.2 points per game. Bryce Alford is second on the team with 15.6 points a game. TJ Leaf leads the team with 16.2 points plus 8.2 rebounds a game. Isaac Hamilton is putting up 14 points a night, Lonzo Ball has averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game and Aaron Holiday is good for 12.5 points plus 4.4 dimes a game. Thomas Welsh (10.8 points, 8.7 rebounds), Ike Anigbogu and Gyorgy Goloman are important players as well as coach Steve Alford has gone with a short bench this season. UCLA is shooting 52.1 percent from the floor as a team, which leads the nation. The Bruins knock down an average of 9.9 triples a night while draining 40.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Kentucky had to go right down to the final buzzer before their win over Wichita State was locked up. The Wildcats need a better performance than we’ve seen in the first two rounds if they hope to advance here. Kentucky led by just two at the half and trailed by as many as four in the second half. Bam Adebayo, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, blocked Landry Shamet’s attempted three pointer to tie the game in the final second to preserve the win. Kentucky shot just 41.8 percent from the floor and went 7 of 18 from three point range in the contest. Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox each had 14 points to lead the Wildcats.
The Wildcats are one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, ranking 9th in scoring offense with 85.3 points per game. Kentucky is 12th in rebounding with 40.2 boards a night and tied for 59th with 15.5 assists per contest. The Wildcats are average defensively, ranking 153rd in scoring defense by allowing 71.5 points per game. Kentucky shoots 47.4 percent from the floor as a team on the year. The Wildcats connect on seven three pointers a game while shooting 35 percent from long range. Malik Monk leads the team with 20 points a game. De’Aaron Fox chips in 16.1 points, four rebounds and 4.6 assists a contest while Isaiah Briscoe puts up 12.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists a night. Edrice Adebayo adds 13.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Mychal Mulder, Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel all put up better than 5.7 points a night for the Wildcats. Kentucky is mediocre at the charity stripe as they cash in 69.8 percent of their chances.
This one has the potential for plenty of fireworks, similar to what we saw in Lexington back in December. Both teams have terrific rotations, excellent depth and can shoot the ball well. UCLA gets the nod in perimeter shooting and has the more dynamic playmaker in Ball. Both teams are on a roll at the moment but Kentucky had to struggle their way to wins in the first two rounds. That gives them some battle tested moments but UCLA has some veterans that Kentucky’s young team lacks. Look for the Bruins to punch their ticket to the Elite Eight.
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Christopher Kubala has been crunching stats and following sports for over 30 years. His in depth analysis and passion for sports have led him to writing books about sports, regularly being featured on sports talk radio and as the go-to person for any obscure trivia. He keeps an eye on transactions and statistics like a hawk, especially when it comes to football, both the NFL and college, the NHL, the NBA and college basketball and MLB.