No. 1 Kentucky, UCLA prepare to meet in Chicago
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — A quick glance at top-ranked Kentucky’s meeting with UCLA and it looks like another marquee opponent that could struggle to keep up with the Wildcats’ platoon system.
After all, Kentucky (11-0) went 10 deep in beating Kansas and Texas by double digits, and it handily defeated North Carolina last weekend without forward Alex Poythress, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during a practice before the game. Even without Poythress, Kentucky goes deeper into its bench than do the Bruins (8-3) entering Saturday’s showdown in Chicago.
But the Wildcats aren’t looking past the Bruins and their balanced offensive attack.
UCLA’s starters each average at least 10.8 points per game with sophomore guard Bryce Alford, son of Bruins coach Steve Alford, leading the way at 18.0 points and 6.7 assists. And UCLA won’t in awe of Kentucky; the Bruins have 11 titles and the potential to pull off an upset if their shots are falling.
“They have guys who can make plays and score and do other things,” Kentucky freshman forward Trey Lyles said of UCLA. “We’re not going to look down on them because of that (lack of depth). We’re going to accept the challenge and go out there and play to the best of our ability and play as a team.”
Saturday’s game at the United Center is the second in doubleheader that begins with North Carolina taking on Ohio State. Kentucky and UCLA are playing for the first time since 2006, the beginning of three straight meeting in a series that continues next season with the Wildcats visiting Pauley Pavilion for the first time before the Bruins return the favor at Rupp Arena in 2016.
Kentucky will try to contain keep Bryce Alford, Norman Powell (17.4 points) and 6-foot-9 forward Kevon Looney (13.9 points, 10.9 rebounds). Wildcats coach John Calipari believes rebounding will be important and focused practices on that aspect along with improving their aggression.
“We’re doing stuff to hold them accountable,” Calipari said. “The stuff we’re not doing — the physical play, we get bumped, we hit the ground, we start throwing balls to a guy next to us, we throw it — well, we’re going to be playing in games where they grab, they hold, they kick, they push, they bite.
“If you can’t play in that type of game, you can’t win that game.’”
UCLA’s Steve Alford is focused on dealing with Kentucky’s depth.
The Wildcats’ ability to overwhelm opponents on both ends of the court for 40 minutes means the Bruins must do “a lot of good things” in many areas to offset their lack of numbers.
“When you’re playing a team like Kentucky — they’re the best rebounding team, I think hands down in our country — it’s not just about trying to guard them,” Alford said in a teleconference.
“You’ve got to finish the possession. That’s what makes it so hard. We’ve got to be awfully good defensively, and we’ve got to be very efficient offensively to give us a chance in those last five minutes to try to win a game.”
UCLA still faces a tall order against a Kentucky squad understanding how its depth takes a toll on opponents.
“That’s the whole idea of the platoon system, trying to bring in fresh bodies and wear the other team down,” said Kentucky freshman guard Tyler Ulis, who played high school ball in Chicago. “I feel like every game we’re coming in with the same attitude to try to attack them and get after it.”