Sidelines with John Clay

De’Aaron Fox is the real star of stars and more Big Blue Links

Fans react as they watched UK defeat UCLA 86-75 in the NCAA Sweet 16 at Tin Roof in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 24, 2017.
Fans react as they watched UK defeat UCLA 86-75 in the NCAA Sweet 16 at Tin Roof in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 24, 2017. Lexington Herald-Leader

Big Blue Links for Saturday:

Monk marvelous, Fox fantastic as Kentucky reaches the Elite Eight, reports Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader. “In addition to the offensive pyrotechnics by Monk and Fox, a palpable effort to defend got UK within a game of its fifth Final Four in the last seven years. UCLA, which led the nation in scoring (90.2 points per game) and shooting (52.1 percent), equaled its second-lowest point total of the season.”

A UCLA team with Final Four hopes is battered beyond recognition, writes Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times. “It ended as it has ended every spring for the last 22 years. College basketball’s greatest dynasty pushed around, shoved down, run over, knocked out. UCLA basketball put to sleep early, 11 national titles dusted over quickly, a world of promise ended suddenly in a faraway gym amid boos and jeers.”

Calipari sly as a fox as Kentucky drives UCLA to exit ramp, writes Rick Bozich of WDRB. “John Calipari has plenty of smudges on his NCAA Tournament coaching resume. Every coach does. Ask the 60 coaches on the NCAA sidelines today. There was the West Virginia game when the John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins team looked as if they had never seen a 1-3-1 zone. There was the 2015 Wisconsin game when Calipari rode the Harrison Twins instead of empowering Devin “I Just Scored 70” Booker. I could find others. This is not the time for that.”

Chiozza’s buzzer-beater sends Florida to the Elite Eight, reports Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun. “Call it the shot heard round Florida, and beyond. Junior point guard Chris Chiozza’s running 3-pointer at the buzzer lifted the Gators to an improbable 84-83 overtime win over Wisconsin in their Sweet 16 matchup at Madison Square Garden. After Wisconsin senior forward Nigel Hayes hit a pair of free throws with 4 seconds left to put the Badgers up 83-81, Florida set up and under basket play for Chiozza, who raced down the court and made a 20-footer as time expired.”

Luke Maye’s promise to Roy Williams helps drive North Carolina,writes Elizabeth Bloom of the Charlotte Observer. “Eight and a half minutes. That’s how long it took North Carolina sophomore Luke Maye to break his career-high 13 points in the Tar Heels’ 92-80 Sweet 16 victory against Butler Friday. Maye finished the game with 16 points – a new career high – and 12 rebounds. It was Maye’s first career double-double in Carolina blue.”

After night of misfires, Derek Willis didn’t flinch when moment came, reports Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader. “Three years ago, one year ago — heck, maybe even at the beginning of this season — Derek Willis wouldn’t have taken the shot he took Friday night. On one of the biggest stages he’ll see as a college player — a Sweet 16 matchup against a UCLA team that defeated UK in Rupp in December — Willis started the game 1-for-9 from the floor and 1-for-6 from three-point range.”

Talk of Memphis: Fox bounces Ball, writes Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News. “To his credit, for all the time he has spent in front of a camera or microphone over the course of the past five weeks, and for all the extraordinary basketball players he has judged to be inferior to his son Lonzo, LaVar Ball is not known to have made any public pronouncement disparaging Kentucky freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox. That’s a relief, right?”

From sweet to elite: North Carolina cruises past Butler, writes Mark Bradley of the AJC. “With 6:49 remaining in the first half Friday, Butler was on pace to score 73 points. By Butler standards, that wasn’t bad. It had averaged 76.2 per game. For the Bulldogs, this part was beyond bad: North Carolina was on pace to score 116. Butler’s opponents had averaged 68.2. After barely 13 minutes, this Sweet 16 game had become the thing that Butler games rarely become — a mismatch. (The final score, 92-80, flatters the loser, and even at that it was the Bulldogs’ most lopsided loss of the season.)”

Tar Heels say they are not same team Monk lit up for 47, writes Mark Story of the Herald-Leader. “It is not that the North Carolina Tar Heels have nightmares in which the number “47” flashes throughout their dreams. Malik Monk’s 47-point explosion in Kentucky’s scintillating 103-100 win over the Tar Heels Dec. 17 in Las Vegas did not stay in Vegas, though, either.”

De’Aaron Fox gets the best of Lonzo Ball, writes Michael Rosenberg of SI.com. “De’Aaron Fox stood in a hallway, smiled, and said he wished he could play for Kentucky again in an hour. Lonzo Ball sat on a chair and said, in a monotone, that he will never play for UCLA again. The difference between them was just as stark as it had been during the game, when Fox and Kentucky dismantled UCLA’s Showtime Jr. attack.”

On Beale Street, how Butler got the Luke Maye blues, writes Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News and Observer. “Whether North Carolina goes to the Final Four or doesn’t make it out of the weekend, whether redemption is on the cards or disappointment lurks around the corner, even if this game ends up a forgotten waypoint on the road somewhere else, it will always be remembered for one thing, one player. Many a tune has been improvised in the neon-lit honky-tonks that line Beale Street, only a block away, but never one as improbable as the Ballad of Luke Maye.”

South Carolina is one step from the Final Four, writes David Cloninger of The State. “South Carolina will wake up one more morning in The City That Never Sleeps. Although Columbia, bursting with pride over its now-Elite Eight basketball team, is challenging New York for its nickname. The Gamecocks rocked Baylor 70-50 on Friday and took their NCAA Tournament ride to the farthest spot in program history, riding an 18-0 first-half offensive burst and their devastating defense to stand one win from the Final Four.”

Kentucky is peaking at Elite Eight, writes Kyle Tucker of SEC Country. “John Calipari gave the easiest halftime speech of his career Friday night. Second-seeded Kentucky led third-seeded UCLA by three points in the Sweet 16 and point guard De’Aaron Fox was schooling his fellow freshman superstar, Lonzo Ball. Fox already had 15 points and the Bruins had zero answers.”

How De’Aaron Fox ended Lonzo Ball’s college career, writes Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports. “Soft-spoken, mild-mannered, understated LaVar Ball wants you to believe his oldest son, Lonzo, is the greatest point guard of all time. In the real world, virtually all analysts believe Ball is one of the top two point guards in the 2017 draft class, slotting him anywhere from first to third in mock drafts. Friday night, though, he wasn’t even the best point guard on the floor at FedEx Forum.”

Flashy Fox leads the way, writes Tim Sullivan of the Courier-Journal. “ De’Aaron Fox’s first step is basically a blur. He’ll stand relatively still near the top of the key, dribbling the basketball, surveying the scene, and then he’ll make a sudden move toward the basket as if he were shot from a cannon. One second you’re standing in front of him, feet spread, arms extended, ready to react to any tell-tale twitch. And then he’s past you, slicing through the lane for a layup, pulling up for a left-handed floater or having drawn so many defenders that he can flip the ball to the wing for an uncontested jump shot.”

End of the line for the Bruins, writes Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register. “The Bruins have left the building. And not voluntarily. They were shoved out of the NCAA Tournament Friday night at the same juncture they left in 2014 and 2015. They lost a chance to get to their first Elite Eight since 2008, which also was their last Final Four season and the last for their conference.”

With Fox playing at this level, UK might be unbeatable, says Matt Norlander of CBS Sports. “Thank God that he let there be light, because that was the only thing catching a man named Fox on Friday night. De’Aaron Fox — the most entertaining, blazing, promising Kentucky point guard since John Wall — had a legendary performance in Memphis in the South Regional semifinal. Fox proved, once again, that he — not Malik Monk — is Kentucky’s best, most valuable player. Lift the lid, inspect and you’ll discover this has been the case all season. Now, with America having watched one of the more dominant individual tournament performances in recent memory, most will come to realize it.”

Kentucky turns the table on UCLA, writes Keith Taylor of KyFoward. “Kentucky got revenge against UCLA and will have to beat North Carolina for a second time this season to reach the Final Four. De’Aaron Fox scored career-high 39 points to lead the Wildcats to an 86-75 win over the Bruins Friday night in the South Region semifinals at FedExForum.”

Kentucky is still dancing, writes Derek Terry of Cats Illustrated. “UCLA had no answer for Fox, Monk. The point totals for both players were mentioned above, but UCLA’s guards struggled to defend Fox and Monk. Fox scored Kentucky’s first eight points of the night and got to the rim at will against the Bruins. He’s become Kentucky’s closer late in the season and did it again against UCLA. He scored every point for the Wildcats in the final 2:35 of the game.”

Cats taste sweet revenge, writes Alex Forkner of the Cats Pause. “Malik Monk looked like his old self again, scoring 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting and hitting 4 of 9 from behind the arc. Dominique Hawkins also reached double figures, adding 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 17 minutes. Monk exploded for 10 points in a span of 2:04 out of the halftime as Fox started 4 of 4 from the floor, pushing UK’s lead to 50-44 with 15:56 to play.”

UCLA is beaten at its own game, reports Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times. “They chased and chased, until there was no point in running anymore. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Lonzo Ball walked to one corner of the court and bent over, gripping his shorts. Bryce Alford hugged his older brother Kory, his college career over.”

Elite Eight television schedule

Saturday

6:09 p.m. - West Region: Gonzaga vs. Xavier (TBS)

8:49 p.m. - Midwest Region: Kansas vs. Oregon (TBS)

Sunday

2:20 p.m. - East Region: Florida vs. South Carolina (CBS)

5:05 p.m. - South Region: Kentucky vs. North Carolina (CBS)

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