UCLA knocks off No. 7 Kentucky

The answers to Kris Wilkes‘ recent struggles would be in the film, head coach Steve Alford preached. So the coach and the freshman huddled together aboard an airplane bound for New Orleans searching for ways to shake Wilkes from his funk.

Somewhere, flying 30,000 feet above the United States, they found it.

After scoring in single-digits for three of the past four games, Wilkes tied a career-high with 20 points to help UCLA upset No. 7 Kentucky 83-75 on Saturday.

The victory gave the Bruins (9-3) a much-needed marquee win in their nonconference finale and third win in as many years against the Wildcats.

While Wilkes paced the Bruins in the first half with 13 points, it was senior Aaron Holiday who sealed the victory. With the Bruins clinging to a four-point lead with 33 seconds left, Holiday crossed Kentucky’s Wenyen Gabriel over twice, drove to the basket and laid a left-handed scoop high off the backboard.

Holiday finished with 20 points, three rebounds and eight assists to seven turnovers.

The traditional basketball powerhouses traded long runs: 13 unanswered by Kentucky, a 21-2 surge from the Bruins, then the 13-2 game-tying response from the Wildcats.

Holiday capped a streak of 10 unanswered UCLA points with a pair of free throws that gave the Bruins a 12-point lead with 7:33 to go.

Less than a week after almost giving up a 24-point lead to South Dakota at home, the Bruins threatened to relinquish another double-digit lead in the second half. They committed three straight turnovers. Kentucky scored seven quick points.

But UCLA’s balanced scoring attack that had five double-digit scorers emerged right in time to stave off the comeback. Prince Ali tipped in a basket when the Wildcats cut the deficit to five. Holiday drained a shot when Kentucky got within four. Wilkes knocked down two free throws. Jaylen Hands iced the game with two more shots from the stripe.

Hands had 14 points while Ali added 12. Center Thomas Welsh had 13 points and 11 rebounds.

The Bruins can now start Pac-12 play with a key NCAA Tournament resume-boosting win in hand. They next host Washington State on Dec. 29 at 8 p.m. PT.