KENTUCKY WILDCATS VS. UCLA BRUINS
Smoothie King Center Ė New Orleans, LA
Tip-off: Saturday, 4:00 pm ET
Line: N/A, Total: N/A
#8 Kentucky will be looking to earn an impressive victory when the team takes on UCLA in New Orleans on Saturday.
The Wildcats are a young team once again, but they will have a ton of talent as long as John Calipari is still coaching the team. Kentucky has already suffered a tough loss this season, as the team lost 65-61 as a five-point underdog against Kansas early in the year. The Wildcats have, however, won every single game since, and one of those was a solid victory over a good Virginia Tech team. The Bruins, meanwhile, have been a little inconsistent on the year. UCLA has solid wins over teams like Georgia Tech and Wisconsin, but the Bruins have also lost to Creighton, Michigan and Cincinnati. A win in this game would go a long way in boosting the teamís tournament resume, but UCLA knows that it is not going to be easy. These teams have met nine times since 1998 and the Wildcats have gotten the best of this series. Kentucky is 5-4 SU against UCLA in those contests, but the Bruins are actually an impressive 5-3-1 ATS in those games. Itíll be interesting to see what happens in this one, but it is worth pointing out that this could be a high scoring contest. The Over has hit in two of the past three meetings between these teams, and both teams like to push the pace.
The Wildcats have been impressive to open up the season, as they are in the Top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They do, however, have fewer studs than they have in recent years. The two guys on this team that truly need to be mentioned are F Kevin Knox and G Hamidou Diallo. Both guys are exceptional for Calipari and theyíll each need to play a huge role in this game. Knox is a smooth scorer, as he is a relatively big guy that can put the ball in the basket in a number of ways. Knox is a bully around the rim, but he also has a solid jumper. Nobody on UCLA is a good matchup for him, so donít be surprised if Knox has at least 20 points in this one. Diallo, meanwhile, is a ridiculous athlete on the wing for this Kentucky team. The Wildcats will badly need him to play a good game on both ends of the floor, as the Bruins have a very good backcourt. Diallo should be able to do just that, though. Other guys to keep an eye on for Kentucky are G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G Quade Green, F PJ Washington and F Wenyen Gabriel. All four of them have shown the ability to contribute this season, so you shouldnít be shocked if any can get it rolling here.
If UCLA is going to find a way to beat Kentucky on Saturday then the team is going to need to play a lot better than it has been on the defensive end. The Bruins are allowing 99.2 points per 100 possessions this season, which is good for only 74th in the entire nation. If they canít get stops against the Wildcats then their offense wonít be important here. Two guys that will need to be at their absolute best for UCLA in this game are G Aaron Holiday and C Thomas Welsh. Both players have been around the block for Steve Alford and this Bruins team, so they know what itís like to play in big games like this one. Aaron Holiday is the brother of NBA players Jrue and Justin, and he also has the talent to play at the next level. Holiday is an efficient scorer that can get to the basket at will. Welsh, meanwhile, is a classic big that can score and rebound. He was already a good player for UCLA the past few seasons, but he now shoots threes and he does it well. Another guy that could make a big impact for the Bruins in this game is G Jaylen Hands. Hands was a highly touted recruit for this team, and the freshman is going to be counted on to play well here. If he can hold his own against Kentuckyís talented backcourt then UCLA just might pull this off.