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Kentucky vs. UCLA: What to watch for, viewing info and predictions

Kentucky will play their first ranked opponent in over a month.

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NCAA Basketball: Yale at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a tough-fought win against Yale, Kentucky will play their first ranked opponent since mid-November, as they play the No. 16 UCLA Bruins in the CBS Sports Classic on Saturday. It will come approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of North Carolina vs. Ohio State, which tips off at 3:00 pm ET.

Similar to Kentucky, the Bruins have lost two games, both to quality opponents, Baylor and Illinois. However, the Bruins have dominated in their wins, proven by their scoring margin, ranked sixth in the country (18.0).

Due to COVID-19, this will be the first matchup between the two teams since 2017, when UCLA won 83-75. This time around, another good game looks to be in store, as Kentucky holds an 8-7 lead in the all-time series.

Let’s take a deep dive into the top 25 matchup.

Defense First

Ranked top 20 in points (81.2), assists (16.8), and shooting percentage (49.9%), UCLA has one of the most efficient offenses in the country. This is headlined by a big three of Jaime Jaquez Jr./Jaylen Clark/Tyger Campbell that has been playing together for three seasons and average 46 points themselves.

Jaquez and Campbell were instrumental in helping UCLA make the 2021 Final Four, where they lost at the buzzer in overtime to then-unbeaten Gonzaga.

It is important to note that the Bruins have played against an average-ranked defense of 145th, losing two of their three games against top 50 opponents. With Kentucky ranked 8th in KenPom defensive efficiency, the Wildcats will be the toughest defense UCLA has played thus far.

Four of UCLA’s five double-digit scorers are backcourt players, which should play into a strength for Sahvir Wheeler, Cason Wallace, and even Chris Livingston and Jacob Toppin at times. However, given that CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves are two of Kentucky’s best sources of offense, they will be needed to step up on the defensive end as well.

Limit Turnovers And Be Efficient

UCLA’s defense struggled to start the season, but over the last five games, things have gotten back on track, and they have given up just an average of 60 points to their opponents. A large part of that is their focus on forcing turnovers.

Forcing an average of 17.6 turnovers per game, the Bruins are 15th in the country in the category. At times this season, UCLA has used this ability to generate a large part of their offense. Against Denver, they forced 24 turnovers and scored 30 points off of them.

Kentucky has done a good job of taking care of the ball this season, so there is not too much cause for concern there, however, they will need to make smart decisions. On offense as a whole, the Wildcats need to put a complete game together.

Utilize Depth Advantage

One of UCLA’s biggest weaknesses this season has been their lack of depth. Mick Cronin plays eight guys consistently in his rotation, but only receives significant contributions from six players, whereas Kentucky regularly uses 8-9 guys.

In what is anticipated to be a close game, lineups may be even more tightened, with Kentucky having the advantage. We have heard Sahvir Wheeler and many others talk about pushing until the other team “let’s go of the rope” and that is what they will need to do against UCLA.

Kentucky Basketball vs. UCLA Bruins

Time/Date: 5:15 pm ET (but more likely 5:30 or later) on Saturday, December 17th, 2022.

Location: Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY

TV Channel: CBS

Announcers: Brad Nessler, Bill Raftery and Jenny Dell

Online Stream: Sling TV

Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.

Replay: SEC Network (check local listings).

Rosters: UK | UCLA

Team Sheets: UK | UCLA

Stats To Know: UK | UCLA

Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has UCLA at -2. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Kentucky an 55.1% chance of winning. However, Bart Torvik gives UCLA the advantage at 62%, while KenPom has it at 53% in favor of the Wildcats.

Predictions: Bart Torvik picked the Bruins to win 72-70, while KenPom is going with a 72-71 victory, Kentucky!