No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 1 Kentucky: Will Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf measure up?

After its schedule peaked last weekend with undistinguished Texas A&M and Nebraska teams, do we really know how good No. 11 UCLA is? We’ll have a lot better idea after Saturday’s spike in the Bruins’ slate.

The Bruins’ schedule is ranked 268th in the country, according to Ken Pomroy. That number will skyrocket after Saturday’s meeting with No. 1 Kentucky, a matchup that is fascinating on several fronts. For further detail, read my preview of UCLA’s biggest game of the young season.

First of all, it’s not out of the question for a win to conceivably vault UCLA to No. 1 in the nation. Aside from who wins, simply watching Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf measure themselves against not one, not two, not three, but four other elite freshmen is a rare opportunity.

While this will mark UCLA’s first-ever trip to Rupp Arena, these two teams have a recent history. This will be not just the third time they’ve played in three years, but the third time Kentucky has been the No. 1 team in the country when they’ve met. UCLA upset the Wildcats at Pauley Pavilion last season. But two years ago, Kentucky handed UCLA one of the most embarrassing defeats in the proud program’s history. How embarrassing? UCLA scored seven points in the first half.

On the statistical front, UCLA and Kentucky are two of the four highest-scoring teams in the country. There are only two teams in the nation that average less than Kentucky and UCLA’s 13.6 seconds per possession. You better not leave your seat, says Steve Alford. In other words, this game is going to be as entertaining as much for the talent – there are six 2016 McDonald’s All-Americans between the two teams – as it is for the breakneck pace of play. Continue reading

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Three thoughts after UCLA’s 87-77 win over No. 1 Kentucky

UCLA men's beats No. 1 Kentucky 87-77

Yes, the above cartoon is pretty harsh. But is it wrong? After eight games, it’s only become more difficult to ascertain just where UCLA men’s basketball is headed this season. On one hand, the Bruins just knocked off No. 1 Kentucky, an 87-77 win that stands as the most impressive of Steve Alford’s short tenure. On the other, they’re only three weeks removed from a season-opening loss to Monmouth.

In case you missed it, here’s my story on the buzz last night at Pauley Pavilion, and Mark Whicker’s column on sophomore Thomas Welsh.

A few more thoughts on UCLA …

1. The Bruins are back on track to make the NCAA Tournament. Losing to Monmouth to open the season was the type of game that would have pushed a team to the wrong side of the bubble. Upsetting the top-ranked Wildcats on national TV undoes all of that damage. UCLA still needs to take care of business the rest of the way, of course: Beating every nonconference opponent left other than Gonzaga or North Carolina would help, as would matching last year’s 11-7 record in conference. There’s still a chance that beat Kentucky was an anomaly, but Thursday night showed that there’s plenty of talent to work with on this roster. Just as importantly, they’re no longer fighting an uphill battle in terms of national perception.

2. Steve Alford deserves credit for the game plan. Kentucky had looked as impressive as any team in college basketball, having gone 635 days since losing its last regular-season game. Strip away that context, though, and no one would have picked the Wildcats as the superior team at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA went to an effective man defense that kept UK out of the paint and forced them to settle their jump shots — the team’s most glaring weakness. Continue reading

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VIDEO: UCLA players talk about 87-77 win over No. 1 Kentucky

UCLA shocked the college basketball world on Thursday night, beating Kentucky, 87-77, for its first win over a No. 1 team since 2003.

“I heard a lot this week about trying to keep it competitive,” said point guard Bryce Alford, “so I’m glad we did that.”

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UCLA hopes last year’s 83-44 loss to Kentucky was a ‘special case’

UCLA point guard Bryce Alford said last season’s 83-44 loss to Kentucky was a “special case,” insisting that the Bruins aren’t about to lay another egg like that in Thursday’s rematch. The top-ranked Wildcats tip off at Pauley Pavilion at 6 p.m. as 5.5-point favorites, a surprisingly low spread given that UCLA has already lost three games.

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