How South Region No. 2 seed Kentucky (31-5) and No. 3 UCLA (31-4) match up at each position for Friday’s NCAA Tournament round-of-16 contest with a game prediction:
▪ In Kentucky’s tense NCAA Tournament round-of-32 victory over Wichita State, Malik Monk hit a crucial late three-pointer; blocked a potential go-ahead WSU three-point try; and made two late foul shots with UK clinging to a one-point lead. What the 6-foot-3, 200-pound guard — the tallest in John Calipari’s three-guard lineup — did not do is get his errant jump shot back on track. Kentucky’s leading scorer (20 points a game) on the season, Monk is 6-for-21 from the field, 2-for-11 on three-pointers in the NCAA Tournament. While scoring 24 points vs. UCLA in Kentucky’s 97-92 loss to the Bruins in Rupp Arena on Dec. 3, Monk shot well — 10-of-19, 4-of-8 treys.
▪ UCLA also plays three guards, and 6-5 senior Isaac Hamilton was stellar for the Bruins in the win in Rupp. A McDonald’s All-American who originally signed with UTEP, Hamilton had 19 points (7-for-13 field goals, 3-for-5 treys) and four rebounds. The younger brother of former Texas forward Jordan Hamilton was UCLA’s leading scorer (18 ppg on 51 percent field goal shooting) when the Bruins came to Rupp Arena. He is now fourth on the team in scoring (14 ppg on 44.8 percent shooting). In the 2017 NCAA tourney, Hamilton is 10-for-24 from the field, 3-for-7 on treys.
▪ Late in his senior season, UK’s Derek Willis (7 ppg, 5.3 rpg) has been creating busy stat lines. In Kentucky’s round-of-64 victory over Northern Kentucky, the Bullitt East product had eight points, seven rebounds, three assists, three blocked shots and two steals. Against Wichita State, the 6-9, 228-pounder had nine points, eight rebounds, three steals, one assist and one block. Willis had 11 points and four rebounds in 22 minutes in the Cats’ loss to UCLA in Rupp.
▪ According to John Calipari, UCLA freshman T.J. Leaf “basically dominated the game” when the Bruins won in Lexington. A 6-10, 225-pound product of El Cajon, Calif., Leaf had 17 points (7-for-12 shooting, 1-for-2 three-pointers) 13 rebounds and five assists. Overall, Leaf has had a stellar freshman season. He leads the Bruins in scoring (16.2) and field-goal percentage (61.6) and is second in rebounding (8.2). In two NCAA tourney games, Leaf is averaging 17 points and 6.5 rebounds.
▪ UK’s Bam Adebayo (13.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 60.9 percent FGs) has carried over his late-season surge into the NCAA tourney. The 6-10, 260-pound freshman has produced double-doubles in both Kentucky Big Dance contests, going for 15 points and 18 boards vs. NKU and 13 points and 10 rebounds against Wichita State. The Little Washington, N.C., product also switched out on Wichita State point guard Landry Shamet to block a potential game-tying three-pointer just ahead of the final buzzer. Adebayo had 18 points and 13 boards vs. UCLA in the first game but made only four of 12 field goal tries.
▪ Over the last two seasons, UCLA’s Thomas Welsh (10.8 ppg, team-best 8.7 rpg) has emerged as a Cat killer. In UCLA’s 87-77 win over the Wildcats in Pauley Pavilion last year, the 7-foot, 245-pound product of Redondo Beach, Calif., had 21 points (8-for-11 shooting) and 11 rebounds. The junior big man fouled out in 19 minutes in Rupp Arena this season, but managed 14 points (5-for-7 field goals) and eight boards. Welsh has played well in the NCAA tourney — 11-for-17 field goals; averages of 13.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg.
▪ Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe played well against UCLA in Westwood last season (20 points on 7-for-10 shooting). The 6-3, 210-pound sophomore from Newark, N.J., was equally as bad (4-for-14 shooting, 0-for-5 treys, and 12 points with three turnovers) against the Bruins this season in Rupp. It will be interesting to see if Briscoe (12.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.1 assists) starts out with the defensive assignment on UCLA star point guard Lonzo Ball.
▪ UCLA’s Bryce Alford (15.6 ppg, 43.3 percent three-point shooting) has not been especially dialed in from long range in the NCAA Tournament. The son of Bruins Coach Steve Alford is 7-for-19 in two tourney games, 6-for-15 on treys. Whichever UK guard the 6-3, 185-pound Alford draws defensively will likely be instructed to drive the ball, as Alford is not a high-level defender.
▪ Through two NCAA tourney games, UK’s De’Aaron Fox has converted 13 of 28 shots, missed his only two three-point tries and hit seven of 10 foul shots. The sleek 6-3, 187-pound freshman from Houston has four assists and eight turnovers in the Big Dance. Fox was razor-sharp while earning SEC Tournament MVP honors (21-for-34 shooting, 22 ppg). In UK’s loss to UCLA in Rupp, Fox (16.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.7 assists on the season) had 20 points, nine assists and only two turnovers.
▪ UCLA’s Lonzo Ball has drawn comparisons to Jason Kidd for his ability to control a game from the point. A 6-6, 190-pound product of Chino Hills, Calif., Ball is averaging 14.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.6 assists. In spite of a quirky shot, Ball is shooting 55.6 from the floor and 42 percent on three-pointers. Ball struggled for a half in Rupp Arena, turning the ball over five times and making only one of five first-half shots. However, Ball found his game in half two, and led UCLA to victory with 14 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
▪ Dominique Hawkins backed up his All-SEC Tournament selection by scoring seven points in each of Kentucky’s first two NCAA Tournament games. Against Wichita State, the 6-foot, 190-pound Madison Central product scored three field goals in the first half at a time UK was struggling to score. Senior swingman Mychal Mulder hit a three vs. Wichita State. Reserve big men Isaac Humphries (0-for-2) and Wenyen Gabriel (0-for-8) have yet to make a field goal in the 2017 Big Dance.
▪ A 6-1, 185-pound sophomore, UCLA supersub Aaron Holiday (12.5 ppg, 4.4 assists) is essentially a sixth starter. The younger brother of New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday is averaging 10 ppg and eight assists in two NCAA tourney games. Ike Anigbogu (4.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg), a 6-10, 250-pound freshman, had six points and six rebounds in 17 minutes against UK in Rupp. He missed the Bruins’ NCAA opener vs. Kent State with an ankle injury but had six points in the win over Cincinnati in the round of 32.
▪ In 22 years as a Division I college coach, Steve Alford is making only his fourth trip to the NCAA tourney round of 16 — and has never advanced past the regional semifinals. Conversely, counting two Big Dance runs (1996 Massachusetts and 2008 Memphis) that were subsequently vacated by the NCAA, John Calipari is 10-2 in round-of-16 contests and is 5-0 at Kentucky. Will the persistent boasting of Lonzo Ball’s father, LaVar, or the swirling talk linking Alford with the Indiana Hoosiers coaching vacancy have any impact on UCLA’s focus? All-time, Kentucky leads the series with UCLA 7-6. The teams have split their prior two NCAA Tournament meetings. UCLA beat Kentucky 92-85 in the 1975 finals. UK, en route to the 1998 national title, beat UCLA 94-68 in the round of 16.
Kentucky 84, UCLA 81