Game day links: Basketball royalty clashes in Sweet 16

UCLA has won its last two meetings with Kentucky, including a 97-92 win earlier this season

Nineteen years ago there were only 17 national championships between them when they met in the Sweet 16. Tonight, UCLA and Kentucky will break their own record.

When the second-seeded Wildcats play the third-seeded Bruins in the NCAA tournament South Regional Semifinal in Memphis, Tenn., their 19 national championships combined will be the most ever between NCAA tournament opponents.

UCLA leads college basketball with 11. Kentucky has eight, two of which it claimed since meeting UCLA in the Sweet 16 in 1998. The Wildcats beat the Bruins by 26 on the way to the ’98 championship and added another title in 2012.

These programs have plenty of recent history, too. Tonight will be the fourth time UCLA and Kentucky have played in the last three seasons. The Bruins have won the last two, including a 97-92 triumph over the then-No. 1 team in the country at Rupp Arena earlier this season. If UCLA emerges victorious again tonight, it will be hard to argue that was a fluke.

Game day links:

  • Beyond biggest game of Steve Alford’s career, future is murky
  • How will UCLA’s win at Kentucky Dec. 3 effect tonight’s game?
  • UCLA, Kentucky both have too much talent at one position
  • Mark Whicker on the lasting effects of UCLA’s trip to Australia
  • Mark Whicker on Steve Alford’s looming decision about Indiana
  • Lonzo Ball on the verge of surpassing Jason Kidd’s assist mark
  • Video: TJ Leaf and Lonzo Ball on facing Kentucky
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  • Is this the most important game of Steve Alford’s career?

    Lonzo Ball is one of six players in UCLA’s regular rotation who could depart in the offseason

    The future couldn’t be more uncertain for Steve Alford. That makes right now all that much more important for UCLA’s basketball coach.

    Alford doesn’t know who’s going to be on his roster next season – or what color jerseys they’ll be wearing.

    Whether or not Alford leaves for Indiana, he may never have a better opportunity to win his first Sweet 16 game than Friday night. It’s safe to say the 2016-17 Bruins are the best roster he’s ever assembled. Of the three previous times he reached the Sweet 16, two were with UCLA and one was with Southwest Missouri State.

    The group he will trot out tonight against No. 2 seed Kentucky in the South regional semifinal likely features four future NBA players and the fifth-leading scorer in UCLA history.

    Bryce Alford, the only UCLA player on each of the previous Sweet 16 teams, is graduating behind only Don MacLean, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Reggie Miller and Jason Kapono on UCLA’s career scoring list. Senior Isaac Hamilton would likely be right there with him had he not sat out his freshman year after a messy transfer from UTEP.

    Lonzo Ball is sure to leave for the NBA. TJ Leaf will likely join him as a lottery pick. Freshman Ike Anigbogu could also be on his way out after one season and junior center Thomas Welsh seems bound for the NBA this year or next.

    “I don’t think there’s going to be another team like this in a while,” Ball said. “This is our opportunity and we’ve got to take it.”

    Yes, Alford signed the No. 2 recruiting class in the country for next season. The chances it includes another transcendent talent like Ball are slim. Two of its members being lottery picks is equally unlikely. UCLA may be good next season, just not this good. Of course, Alford may not be around to see it.

    “You almost don’t want to think about it,” Steve Alford said. “You don’t ever want it to end. So there’s an urgency, one, as coaches in preparation. But then, as a team, you want to relax them too, so they don’t feel it.”

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    Lonzo Ball actually realizing the Jason Kidd comparison


    It has been so long since a pure point guard the likes of Lonzo Ball passed through college basketball, a comparable player is admittedly difficult to find. The one landed on most often as Ball averaged a nation-leading 7.6 assists per game this season is Jason Kidd.

    The UCLA freshman could justify the likeness in a way he never has before on Friday night against Kentucky in the Sweet 16. If Ball has seven assists against the Wildcats, he’ll pass the former Cal star for the second-most assists by a Pac-12 player in a single season.

    Kidd had 272 assists his sophomore season at Cal. After collecting all nine of his in the second half of Sunday’s second-round win over Cincinnati, Ball has 266.

    Ahlon Lewis set the conference record with 294 his senior season at Arizona State in 1998. Avery Johnson, the current Alabama head coach, set the all-time NCAA single-season assist record with 399 at Southern University in 1988.

    The Kidd comparison to Ball only works on the passing front. Continue reading “Lonzo Ball actually realizing the Jason Kidd comparison” »

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    UCLA football links: Bruins host scouts at Pro Day

    UCLA tight end and fullback Nate Iese runs an agility drill in front of NFL scouts during UCLA’s pro day for NFL draft prospects in Los Angeles, Tuesday, March 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

    For the 12 UCLA seniors who didn’t get invited to the NFL Combine, Tuesday’s Pro Day was the biggest job interview of their lives.

    “This is their Combine,” head coach Jim Mora said.

    UCLA hosted its annual Pro Day on Tuesday, welcoming scouts and coaches from all 32 NFL teams, as 17 outgoing seniors worked out to improve their draft stocks. Former UCLA running back Jordan James and punter Matt Mengal also participated in the workout.

    Wide receiver Kenneth Walker III had a good day, showing off his impressive speed (some scouts clocked his 40-yard dash in the 4.2-second range) and make a number of good catches in rainy conditions. Despite slipping a few times on the slick turf, linebacker Cameron Judge was approached by an Atlanta Falcon scout after the linebackers drills and was commended on his performance. Judge was also thrilled with his 40-yard dash time that was clocked in the low 4.5-second range.

    More from Pro Day

    Other links:

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