How No. 7 Kentucky (9-1) and UCLA (8-3) match up at each position — with a game prediction:
▪ Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox bounced back from a horrid game against Monmouth (1-of-9 shooting, seven turnovers) with a strong effort in UK’s 93-86 win over Virginia Tech. The 6-foot-9, 215-pound product of Tampa had a team-high 21 points and helped UK rally from six down at halftime by scoring 11 points early in half two. Knox remains Kentucky’s leading scorer (15.8 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (5.7 rpg).
▪ UCLA freshman Kris Wilkes, Indiana’s 2017 Mr. Basketball at North Central High School in Indianapolis, left the Hoosier State to play for Indiana’s 1983 Mr. Basketball — UCLA head coach Steve Alford. A willowy 6-8, 195 pounds, Wilkes is averaging 11.6 ppg and 5.9 rpg. But Wilkes is making only 27.8 percent on three-pointers (10-of-36) and 53.3 percent (24-of-45) on free throws.
▪ After losing 15 pounds in 17 days with a running program, freshman PJ Washington has been more effective. The 6-7 Dallas product had 20 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots in UK’s 93-76 win over Monmouth. Against Virginia Tech, Washington (11 points, five rebounds, five assists) hit a big three-pointer and claimed a crucial, contested rebound.
▪ UCLA senior Gyorgy Goloman (pronounced GO-loh-mun) has waited his turn, and the 6-11, 225-pound Hungarian has started the Bruins’ first 11 games. Goloman had 12 points, seven rebounds and two assists in UCLA’s tense 85-82 win over South Dakota on Tuesday night. In three prior games against UK, Goloman (7.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg) is a combined 2-of-6 shooting.
▪ Kentucky’s Nick Richards had eight points (on 3-of-5 shooting), six rebounds and three blocked shots against Virginia Tech. Yet Richards (8.8 ppg, team-best 6.6 rpg, team-leading 1.6 blocks) got only 22 minutes of playing time because the 6-11, 240-pound freshman struggled containing Tech’s Kerry Blackshear in the post.
▪ UCLA senior Thomas Welsh will be playing for the fifth time against Kentucky. In UCLA’s 87-77 win over UK in Pauley Pavllion in 2015-16, the 7-foot, 255-pound Welsh had 21 points and 11 rebounds. When the Bruins beat the Cats 97-92 last season in Rupp Arena, Welsh had 14 points and eight boards. In UK’s 86-75 victory over UCLA in last season’s NCAA Tournament round of 16, Welsh had nine points and seven rebounds before fouling out in 18 minutes. Welsh (13.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg) will be a test for UK’s young post players.
▪ Kentucky redshirt freshman Hamidou Diallo (15.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals) has scored 19 points or more in his last four games. If the dynamic 6-5, 198-pound product of Queens, N.Y., can shoot the three-pointer anywhere close to as well as he did against Virginia Tech (4-of-7 treys), he will be difficult for anyone to guard.
▪ UCLA sophomore Prince Ali tore his left meniscus in the summer of 2016, and sat out last season as a redshirt. A 6-3, 190-pound product of The Bronx, N.Y., Ali has enjoyed mixed results this season. On the plus side, he’s averaging double figures in scoring (10.1 ppg) and shooting 46.7 percent (14-of-30) on three-pointers. On the debit side, he’s making only 56.8 percent (21-of-37) from the foul line and has more turnovers (21) than assists (20).
▪ After suffering an eye injury against Monmouth, Kentucky’s Quade Green wore protective eye wear — which looked an awful lot like sunglasses — during UK’s victory over Virginia Tech. The 6-foot, 180-pound freshman from Philadelphia played well in his shades, scoring 17 points and doling out five assists. Green (11 ppg, 3.7 assists, 2.4 rpg) has been dialed in with his shot the past two games, making a combined 10 of 18 field goal attempts.
▪ UCLA junior Aaron Holiday leads the Bruins in scoring (17.4 ppg) and assists (5.4), but has not shot as accurately in 2017-18 as a season ago. Last year, the 6-1, 185-pound product of Chatsworth, Calif., hit 48.5 percent of his field goal tries, 41.1 percent on three-pointers. This year, the younger brother of New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday is making 45 percent on field goals, 31.7 percent on treys. Holiday has, however, historically shot well against UK — 9-of-17 field goals, 4-of-6 three-pointers in the prior three meetings.
▪ Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been one of the Wildcats’ most productive players. The 6-6, 180-pound freshman leads UK in assists (41) and steals (23) while averaging 10 ppg and 3.4 rpg. Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel (6.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg) had eight boards against UCLA in last season’s loss in Rupp Arena. After missing the Monmouth game with a sprained ankle, center Sacha Killeya-Jones (4.3 ppg, 4 rpg) went scoreless in seven minutes against Virginia Tech.
▪ UCLA backups bailed the Bruins out against South Dakota. Freshman point guard Jaylen Hands (12 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.8 apg) had 12 points. Freshman swingman Chris Smith (5.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg) had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Redshirt sophomore forward Alex Olesinski (5.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg) hit two of three shots to score five points. The Bruins are without freshmen big men Cody Riley and Jalen Hill. The duo remains suspended after a well-publicized shoplifting incident in China before UCLA’s season opener against Georgia Tech.
UK leads the all-time series with UCLA 8-6. As UK coach, John Calipari is 2-2 against UCLA. Steve Alford is 3-3 against Kentucky — 2-2 at UCLA and 1-1 at Iowa. UCLA (11) and Kentucky (eight) are the two schools with the most men’s NCAA basketball championships. UCLA’s veterans may be motivated by trying to beat the program that eliminated the Bruins from last season’s NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky 82, UCLA 72
No. 7 Kentucky vs. UCLA
What: CBS Sports Classic
Where: Smoothie King Center in New Orleans
When: About 4 p.m. EST (second game of doubleheader that features Ohio State vs. North Carolina starting at 1:30 p.m.)
TV: Both games on CBS-27
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Series: Kentucky leads 8-6
Last meeting: Kentucky won 86-75 on March 24, 2017, in the NCAA Tournament South Region semifinals at Memphis.