UCLA Basketball vs. Kentucky Preview


The day is coming. The day that Coach Steve Alford said he would “like to delete it from the calender”. Any rational UCLA basketball fan knows that the game this Thursday against #1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats (7-0) will be a very tough match up for the Bruins (4-3). UCLA administration has planned a “Gold Out” game, hoping to motivate the team to pull off one of the largest upsets in recent UCLA history.

UCLA Offense vs Kentucky Defense

UCLA can score. In the past we’ve seen Bryce Alford shoot with a touch of magic from beyond the arc and Tony Parker dominate the post with his size. But we have also seen miserable performances from the very same group. Combine this with the size, strength and talent of Kentucky, trouble may be approaching.

In the small sample size of the 2015-16 season, the Alford-led UCLA basketball team is averaging 79.1 points per game which is good for 105th in the nation. This season the coaching staff moved Bryce off the ball for some points in the game allowing true freshman Aaron Holiday to take over as primary ball handler.

While personally I do like this move due to Holiday’s upside and energy he brings both on the offensive and defensive side of the court, it is possible that Bryce’s switch to an off-ball position is limiting his production. He is still leading the team in points, with 15 points per game, he is shooting the ball at 39% from the field and 28% from behind the arc, which is a good 10% lower than the previous season.

Nov 24, 2015; Lahaina, HI, USA; UCLA Bruins center Tony Parker (23) dunks against Kansas Jayhawks forward Jamari Traylor (31) during the Maui Jim Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Parker is a double-double machine early this season. While the turnover bug still has infected Tony during a few games this year, I’d rather look at the bright side. If UCLA receives big time production from Parker and Thomas Welsh, it could help against the always stout Kentucky defense.

After the thrashing that the Wildcats handed UCLA last season, that low scoring first half will certainly remain in the minds of Bruin faithful. To put it simply, Kentucky has a good defense, maybe not as physically dominating and intimidating as the past years, but they only allow 62 points per game, good for 22nd in the nation. They held Duke to 63 points and have consistently pushed around smaller teams. The Kentucky big men will most likely be able to out muscle the UCLA bigs and their guards are quick, which could pose a problem for turnover prone UCLA guards.

Winner: Kentucky

UCLA Defense vs. Kentucky Offense

More from Go Joe Bruin

In prior years, UCLA was not the most stout defensive team around. This year is no different. Aaron Holiday undoubtedly provides energy and enthusiasm on that side of the ball, yet defense is a team job, i.e Ben Howland‘s Final Four teams. The duo of Isaac Hamilton and Alford at the top of the key is a scary thought against an always potent Kentucky offense. In order to shut down the opposition, a career effort will be needed by Isaac and Bryce. The run and gun style of play is clearly reflected in the Bruin’s defensive stats, as they allow 75 points per game, which means there are 218 better defensive teams.

This is where the lack of playable depth will haunt the Bruins. If Tyler Ulis is healthy, Jamal Murray (15 PPG), Ulis (13.2 PPG), Isaiah Briscoe (12.2 PPG) could tire the starters and get them in foul trouble. The Wildcats score 79.7 PPG, which could cause some some issues for a porous UCLA defense. As well as quality guard play, Kentucky possess dominating post play of Marcus Lee, Isaac Humphries, Skal Labissiere and Alex Polythress.

Winner: Kentucky


Jan. 30, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins fans during the game against the USC Trojans at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

As a diehard Bruin sports fan, and witness to the 2006 football win over that other school and Tyler Trapani’s basket in the weening moments of the old Pauley, I will always have hope for a miracle. That side of me is hoping for a 88-87 victory with Tony Parker hitting a fade away jumper at the buzzer to win, with thousands of gold shirted students rushing the court.

Then reality hits and I have to predict something of a 85-68 game in favor of the Wildcats. But hopefully I am wrong and the Bruins come away with a tough victory against the #1 team in the land. Go Bruins!