JOE COX: No. 11 UCLA's High-Octane Offense Too Much For Top-Ranked Wildcats Saturday
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- When the Kentucky Wildcats' basketball program found itself in unfamiliar territory against UCLA Saturday, trailing 49-45, motivation arrived from an appropriate source.
As halftime began, the bowl-bound UK football team took the court at Rupp Arena to a raucous reception, bearing the Governor’s Cup after their recent upset of Louisville as well as overcoming its early season struggles. The Big Blue Nation cheered the conquering gridiron heroes, and if not explicitly stated, the implied message was clear. (See photo below)
UK can bounce back from a little adversity.
Which is good, because the basketball Wildcats picked up some adversity on Saturday afternoon with their first loss of the 2016-17 season. With its high-octane offense, UCLA, which already owns the NCAA title lead over UK, rubbed some salt in the wound by knocking off a top-ranked Kentucky squad for the second time in two seasons, 97-92.
The Bruins outshot Kentucky from the floor, from three-point territory, and from the foul line en route to the upset. The No. 11 Bruins, having avoided tough competition previously this season, made their own statement in the nationally-televised game shown on CBS.
Kentucky coach John Calipari (pictured) praised UCLA, especially its 6-10 freshman TJ Leaf, who had a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
"You’ve got to give UCLA credit," said Calipari. "(TJ) Leaf basically dominated the game. We had no one, unless I was going to go big lineup, which we haven't done a whole lot, which shows me maybe we have to be prepared for that.
"But he killed us. Straight line drives, rebounds, making shots. We left him a couple times. He played. They also played to their strengths.
"Now, we turned them over a bunch, got a lot more shots than they did. But when we had our chance down seven (at the end), turnover, dunk, give up a three, all within 13 seconds. It's all discipline. “So for us, this wasn't about offensively. We gave up 10 threes and I'm guessing six of them we left (open) a shooter."
Six Bruins finished in double-figures in points, led by senior guard Isaac Hamilton, who had 19 points. Freshman guard Lonzo Ball, outplayed in the first half by Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, rallied down the stretch with several key plays, including a steal and basket as the Wildcats attempted a late comeback.
Kentucky had a poor shooting game, and was inconsistent on the backboard in the loss. Freshman guard Malik Monk paced four Cats in double-figure scoring totals, with 24 points in the game. Freshman Bam Adebayo had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but made 3 of 12 shots from the floor, and missed several easy layups.
The Wildcats trailed by as many as 11 points with 30 seconds to play, but rallied to cut the Bruin lead to 95-92 with 8.3 seconds left, before Bryce Alford sealed the game at the foul line.
UK's Monk couldn't really explain why his team's defense struggled so badly against the Bruins.
“We don’t know," he said. "We weren’t focused like we usually are. We have to be focused and ready to play day in and day out. If not, we’ll get beat just like this.”
Kentucky will look to bounce back Wednesday, Dec. 7 at home against Valparaiso, in an 8 p.m. EST tipoff. That game will be shown on SEC Network. A neutral-court game against North Carolina and a road matchup at Louisville loom later this month for the Wildcats, who fall to 7-1 with the loss.
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written five books, with his most recent, Almost Perfect, to be released in February 2017. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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