How Kentucky and UCLA match up position by position — with a game prediction:
▪ The third guard in John Calipari’s three-guard attack, Kentucky’s Malik Monk (19.3 ppg, 38.2 percent three-point shooting) has been the epitome of a streak shooter in his first seven college games. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound product of Lepanto, Ark., hit seven of 11 treys against Michigan State and four of six vs. Cleveland State, but he’s 10 of 38 on three-pointers in UK’s other five games. Monk’s leaping pass across his body to a running Wenyen Gabriel for a fast-break hoop against Arizona State on Monday is one of the best basketball plays you’ll ever see.
▪ Isaac Hamilton was UCLA’s leading scorer (17 points) in the Bruins’ most impressive victory of the season, 74-67 over Texas A&M. A 6-5, 195-pound senior from Los Angeles, Hamilton was a McDonald’s All-American in 2013 who originally signed with UTEP but changed his mind. The younger brother of former Texas forward Jordan Hamilton sat out 2013-14, then seemed to need some time to find his game. This year, however, he’s playing at a high level, leading UCLA in scoring (18 ppg) and shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 44.1 on three-pointers. Hamilton had 15 points in UCLA’s 87-77 win over UK last season.
▪ UK’s Wenyen Gabriel is becoming a Clark Kellogg-style “stat stuffer.” In 20 minutes of Kentucky’s 115-69 demolition of Arizona State, the 6-9, 213-pound freshman had 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. For the season, the Manchester, N.H., product is averaging 8.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg and almost two assists. Over UK’s last three games, Gabriel has averaged 11.7 points and 7.7 rebounds.
▪ UCLA freshman T.J. Leaf has lived up to his McDonald’s All-America billing, averaging 17.3 ppg and 9.3 rpg. Although born in Tel Aviv, Israel, the 6-10, 225-pound Leaf grew up in El Cajon, Calif. He is shooting 68.7 percent from the floor and 50 percent (8 of 16) on treys. In the victory over Texas A&M, Leaf had 13 points and nine rebounds.
▪ Kentucky freshman Bam Adebayo just missed his third double-double of the season against Arizona State (12 points, nine rebounds). A 6-10, 260-pounder from Little Washington, N.C., Adebayo seems a little more comfortable in the post with each game. He leads UK in rebounding (7.6), is tied for the team lead in blocked shots (11) and is averaging 11.1 points.
▪ A husky 7-footer, UCLA’s Thomas Welsh pulverized Kentucky a season ago, making eight of 11 shots and scoring 21 points with 11 rebounds. This season, the junior from Redondo Beach, Calif., is almost averaging a double-double (10.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and has blocked 20 shots.
▪ UK’s Isaiah Briscoe missed two full games and half of another after suffering a lower-back injury against Duquesne. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound sophomore from Newark, N.J., returned to score 20 points with four rebounds and seven assists in the Cats’ win over Arizona State. Briscoe led Kentucky with 20 points (7-of-10 shooting) in last season’s loss at UCLA.
▪ After playing point guard last season, UCLA’s Bryce Alford has moved to the two spot as a senior. The 6-3, 185-pound son of Bruins head coach Steve Alford is averaging fewer points this season (15.5, down from 16.1 a year ago) but is shooting a much higher percentage (from 38.5 last season to 45.6 this year). In a close game, Alford is not the guy you want to see at the foul line (32-of-34, 94.1 percent). Alford had 15 points (5-of-13 shooting) vs. UK last season.
▪ Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox became the second player in UK men’s basketball history (Chris Mills was the first) credited with a triple-double in UK’s blowout of Arizona State. The 6-3, 187-pound freshman from Houston had 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. A supersonic jet in the open court, Fox is averaging 15.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 7.6 assists. The only thing lacking in his game so far has been the three-point shot (2-of-13).
▪ UCLA’s Lonzo Ball started drawing Jason Kidd comparisons after he doled out 13 assists in last spring’s McDonald’s All-America Game. A 6-6, 190-pound freshman from Chino Hills, Calif., Ball is averaging 14.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg and 9.6 assists. Ball has an unorthodox-looking shot — but it goes in. He is shooting 57.7 percent from the field, 47.4 (18 of 38) on three-pointers. He had 16 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in the win over Texas A&M.
▪ Derek Willis had 11 points and six rebounds off the Kentucky bench against Arizona State. The 6-9, 228-pound senior had 11 points and six boards at UCLA last year. Senior guard Dominique Hawkins had seven points and three assists vs. ASU and now has 22 assists vs. two turnovers on the season. Matchups could allow 7-footer Isaac Humphries (5.1 ppg, 5 rpg) to make a valuable contribution vs. UCLA. The Australian had four points and six boards at UCLA last season. Senior shooting guard Mychal Mulder (15-of-32 three-point shooting) has made the most (7.9 ppg) of limited minutes (11.4 a game). Freshman power forward Sacha Killeya-Jones has made 13 of 20 shots.
▪ UCLA’s Aaron Holiday plays starter minutes (26.4) and provides starter production (12.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.0 assists). The 6-1, 185-pound sophomore, younger brother of ex-Bruins standout Jrue Holiday, has made 14 of 27 treys. Gyorgy Goloman, a 6-11, 215-pound junior from Hungary, is Steve Alford’s most productive front-court reserve (5.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 61.5 percent shooting).
UCLA plays in Rupp Arena for the first time ever and against UK in Lexington for the first time since falling to the Cats 77-76 in Memorial Coliseum in 1961. Kentucky would have a revenge motif working from last year’s 87-77 loss at UCLA, but only four of the players who played in that game for UK are on the Wildcats roster this year. UK leads the all-time series 7-5, but UCLA has won three of the past five. The biggest intangible advantage for the Cats is apt to be a Rupp crowd that will be jacked for the first marquee home game of 2016-17.
Kentucky 88, UCLA 81