The Sports Xchange
Posted with permission from The Sports Xchange
The Sweet 16 round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament resumes this week with only one battle between top 10 teams -- No.5 Kentucky vs. No. 8 UCLA on Friday night in Memphis, Tenn.
Kentucky (31-5) is the No. 2 seed in the South Region and UCLA (31-4) is the No. 3 seed. However, the Bruins beat the Wildcats, 97-92, on Dec. 3 in Lexington, Ky.
"There has to be so much emotion to these next games," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "This has been an unbelievably successful season, now go finish. We're not worried about the other teams, we have to worry about one team.
" ... It shows a five-point game (against UCLA), but we were never in it. To do what they did, they physically manhandled us. You don't see that very often, especially in this building."
UCLA coach Steve Alford is quick to dismiss that a win in December will have any impact on an NCAA Tournament game in March.
"It's a very, very good basketball team and I think they're better now in March than they were when we played them in December, and I think we're better than what we were in December as well," Alford said. "At least we know them pretty well, as far as prep goes and they obviously know us. But it makes for a great match-up."
In that December game, UCLA freshman T.J. Leaf made 7 of 12 shots and finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds. As became the norm for the Bruins, Leaf was one of six players scoring in double figures.
Isaac Hamilton scored 19 points, while Thomas Welsh, Lonzo Ball and Bryce Alford each had 14, and Aaron Holiday added 13.
"What Leaf did, he basically dominated the game," Calipari said at the time. "He killed us."
Upon further review for this week's rematch, Calipari discovered a flaw in his team.
"I watched the tape and we didn't block out," Calipari said. "Hopefully, Derek Willis or Wenyen Gabriel are better rebounders than they were that game, because most of them were just shots they missed and we just stared at the ball.
"The kid (Leaf) gets 10 or 11 rebounds but never really had to fight for a ball. Our kid is watching it and he just grabs it."
Kentucky put five players in double figures that day, led by Malik Monk with 24 points. De'Aaron Fox added 20, Bam Adebayo collected 18 points and 13 rebounds, Isaiah Briscoe scored 12, and Willis had 11.
Friday'' game also has the potential to be one of the most electrifying of the tournament.
UCLA is the No. 1 scoring team in the nation at 90.2 points per game. Kentucky is No. 9 at 85.2. They are the two highest scoring teams left in the NCAA field.
"I don't know of a more fun basketball team to watch when we're clicking and we've had a lot of games where we've been clicking," Alford said.
"I think the difference is in the last seven weeks we've been better defensively. Now we can go to a different level offensively."
Calipari knows he can't let the Bruins run free.
"In the first game, we were really fast, but we were impatient," Calipari said. "They are a team that you've got to make play defense. You can't take quick, contested shots. They are really good. This is going to be a hard game."
On that much, the coaches agree.
"I think we're very well prepared for whatever is thrown at us," Alford said. "You get 31 wins at this level your guys have done a lot of good things. We'll prepare for them, do the best we can and we know we got a tall order ahead of us. We also know we're a very good basketball team."