Back on December 3rd, the UCLA Bruins came into Rupp Arena and defeated the Kentucky Wildcats 97-92. One of the highlights of the game was the matchup between superstar freshman point guards De’Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball.
How did these two players fair against each other? Fox ended the game with 20 points, nine assists, and only two turnovers. Ball had 14 points, seven assists, and six turnovers. By all accounts, Fox was better that day.
The reason Kentucky lost wasn’t because Ball had a monster game, it was because TJ Leaf and the rest of the Bruins played well. The ‘Cats played well enough to win, but in the end, the Bruins won the rebound war and the shooting percentage war.
The ‘Cats are by all accounts a different team than they were in December. They are defending much better, and they are better in the paint as Bam Adebayo has emerged as a beast, and Derek Willis has transitioned his game from a spot up shooter to a rebounder, a shot blocker, and defender.
But the media and Vegas aren’t looking at that at the moment. The Bruins are favored by just one point. But the media are much heavier on Steve Alford’s team and Lonzo Ball in particular.
ESPN basketball writer Myron Medcalf tells us how the Sweet 16 will unfold and this is what he had to say about UK vs. UCLA on Friday night:
Listen, this summer's NBA draft will feature one of the most stacked classes of talent in years. The pool is so deep that a kid such as California's Ivan Rabb could fall outside the lottery. The greatest prize, however, is Ball. He's on a short list of players who could become the top pick in averaging a silly 14.7 points, 7.6 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. He collected 12 assists against just two turnovers in UCLA's NCAA tournament wins over Kent State and Cincinnati.
In Memphis, Ball will be a star in a rich field. This is when the heroes soar. And college basketball doesn't have a more equipped Superman than UCLA's star. And when he dazzles the world with a pair of performances that boost his draft stock and lead the Bruins past Kentucky and North Carolina, he'll prove that his father, LaVar Ball, might exaggerate his talents but not his promise.
Ball has been named the heir apparent to great college point guards. Fox isn’t mentioned. Fox is captaining a team on a 14 game winning streak, the longest in the country, is defending better than he has all season, and offensively he has turned into a juggernaut going to the basket.
As we saw over the weekend, the Kentucky team listens to the outside noise, and they take it personally. Not one Bruin has said anything derogatory towards UK at this time, but the media is providing plenty of material for the bulletin board.
Here is more from Bleacher Report, again it’s all about UCLA and Ball:
Each team is loaded with future pros, most notably UCLA's star freshman guard Lonzo Ball.
But the key to the game could actually be one of the lesser pro prospects: UCLA guard Bryce Alford.
Alford, son of Bruins head coach Steve Alford, is one of the few upperclassmen who will see significant playing time in this matchup. Alford's veteran leadership on the floor could prove to be a critical asset for the Bruins, especially in high-pressure situations late in the game.
Alfords leadership and ball-handling skills were likely a contributing factor to UCLA committing 38 fewer turnovers than Kentucky this season.
Prediction: UCLA 86, Kentucky 83
Are you hoping to see someone say his 19-year-old son deserves $10 million or a spaceship or a gold-plated statue in downtown Los Angeles?
You want to see someone speak these into existence? Then UCLA is your team and LaVar Ball is your guy. The father of stud freshman Lonzo Ball has been outspoken about his talented son, and the longer into March Lonzo plays, the longer we have with LaVar, hoping he'll say something outrageous.
Friday can’t get here soon enough.