John Calipari has been clamoring for a test for his #1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats all season, and it looks like he may get it when the #11 UCLA Bruins roll into Rupp Arena on Saturday.
The Bruins are 8-0 and only one of those games, a 74-67 win over Texas A&M has been moderately close. The Bruins are a high scoring team as well as they scored 119 points against Pacific, 102 against Cal State Northridge, 114 against Long Beach State, 99 against Portland and 98 against UC Riverside. The Wildcats are no slouch in the scoring department either with three straight triple-digit efforts and call it a hunch, but UK is slightly better than anyone the Bruins have played so far.
There is a revenge factor for Kentucky as well as Kentucky suffered their first loss last season to the Bruins 87-77. This is the rubber match in the three-game series as Kentucky destroyed the Bruins 83-44 in 2014. I don't know what the status of this series is in the future, but the Bruins need to be on UK's schedule on a regular basis.
Let's meet the Bruins.
#2 G - ALONZO BALL (FR-6'6-190) 14.6 PPG, 9.6 APG, 4.9 RPG
#20 G - BRYCE ALFORD (SR-6'3-185) 15.5 PPG, 3.0 APG, 2.8 RPG
#10 G - ISAAC HAMILTON (SR-6'5-195) 18.0 PPG, 3.8 APG, 3.5 RPG
#22 F - TJ LEAF (FR-6'10-225) 17.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.5 APG
#40 C - THOMAS WELSH (JR-7'0-245) 10.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.5 BPG
Kentucky will probably not face a better starting five all season. Freshman PG Lonzo Ball has been sensational all season. Ball has an A/TO ratio of 3.79, and he hits 48.6% of his three-pointers and 57.4% overall. Ball is also very solid on the defensive end as he averages 1.3 steals a game and almost a block a game. He is very composed for a freshman and has only been in foul trouble once, when he fouled out against Nebraska. The matchup between Fox and Ball is well worth the price of admission.
Having Ball as a solid point has allowed Bryce Alford to move almost full time to the two guard spot and he has been one of the more consistent scorers over the last three seasons. Alford is averaging a career-high 17 points, along with a career best three-point shooting percentage of 44.2% and an overall high of 47.9%. Alford takes almost 60% of his shots from long range, and he has an A/TP ratio of 2.9 and has 1.4 steals a game.
Isaac Hamilton returns as one of the top scorers in the PAC-12, and he is shooting even better than ever. He hits 40,4% of his three-pointers and 50% overall. Hamilton is prone to turnovers and foul trouble at times, but he is definitely a player that can take over the game with his shooting.
Freshman TJ Leaf is a former McDonald's All-American, and he has been very impressive thus far. He is hitting 67.6% of his shots and knocks down the three-pointers very well for a big man at 53.3%. He has taken just 15 treys on the season, so the jury is out on how much he can keep it up, but he has produced. He is a banger on the boards, and he also adds 1.3 blocks a game. He is prone to foul trouble as any freshman is and it will be interesting to see how he responds to the big game environment at Rupp.
Thomas Welch has developed into a very nice big man and is averaging almost a double-double. He has a very nice mid-range jumper and hits 51.6% of his shots. He has improved on his defense a good bit and has 2.5 blocks a game which is up from 1.0 last season. Welch is also foul prone and averages 2.9 fouls a game.
#3 G - AARON HOLIDAY (SO-6'1-185) 12.9 PPG, 4.1 APG, 3.8 RPG
#14 F - GYORGY GOLOMAN (JR-6'11-215) 5.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.0 BPG
#13 F - IKE ANIGBOGU (FR-6'10-215) 3.0 PTS, 2.7 RPG,1.7 BPG
While the starters are talented, it is a pretty thin bench as just seven players have played in at least seven games. Aaron Holiday lost his starting spot to Ball, but is probably one of the best sixth men in the country. Holiday hits 51.9% of his three-pointers and 52.2% overall. He plays starters minutes however, and there is not a lot of dropoff when Holiday is on the floor.
Freshman Anigbogu has just played in the last three games, and those are his only minutes of the season. He has a lot of potential but playing against Kentucky will be by far his biggest test so far. Goloman is still sort of a project from Hungary, and he missed 17 games last season with an injury. He has played well at times but hits just 37.5% of his shots.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN
The Bruin's top six players can play with any team in the country and are probably one of the top six-man rotations in the county. Unfortunately for them, Kentucky has the best six-man rotation and the Wildcat's roster goes a lot deeper as they have ten players that average right at 10.0 minutes a game and that does not count Brad Calipari and Tai Wynyard, who have played in all games.
The Bruins can do one thing better than UK, and that is shoot the basketball. UCLA averages 11 made three-pointers a game and are hitting a blazing 45.6% of their treys. They are also a very solid passing team and have an A/TO ratio of over 2.0 as a team. They are also a good rebounding team and play good interior defense with 7.0 blocks a game.
Expect a lot of points in this game as the Bruins average 97 points a games and UK 96. Look for Kentucky to jump on UCLA early and attempt to run them out of the gym and to get the key Bruins in foul trouble. UCLA has the bodies to throw at UK, however after the top six players, there is a big dropoff in talent. Look for Kentucky to wear UCLA down and try to exploit the depth advantage.
This will be a great test for Kentucky, but I do not see them dropping this game at Rupp. If the Bruins can knock down 15 three-pointers or so, they may have a shot. I expect UK to shut down the perimeter and to take control inside. This could be a crazy track match of a game in which case, Kentucky could easily blow the doors off the Bruins if they try to run with them the entire forty minutes. I doubt UCLA will challenge UK like that. I still expect a high scoring game, though. Look for a hard fought 88-80 win by the Cats.