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Why UK will beat UCLA on Friday


Kentucky’s loss to UCLA back on December 3 was a much-needed wakeup call. The Cats had just blown out Arizona State in the Bahamas, a performance so impressive that Dan Dakich called it one of the best he’s witnessed in his entire broadcasting career. People were even bringing up the possibility of 40-0. But, UCLA came in and, for the second straight season, exposed Kentucky’s biggest flaws. At the time, Kentucky didn’t play defense, particularly the guards. There was no consistent production at the four spot. There was no discipline. The Cats were cruising by on sheer talent and the ability to run past people, and when faced with a team that was also talented and could also run, they balked. The final score was 97-92, but in reality, it wasn’t really that close.

Fast forward three and a half months and here we are, headed for a rematch in the Sweet 16. Oddly, I feel much better about Kentucky’s chances in this game than I did on Sunday vs. Wichita State. In fact, the more I look at this matchup, the more confident I get. Here’s why.

1. Kentucky plays defense now

Not only did Kentucky let UCLA score 97 points back in December, they let the Bruins beat them in every facet of the game, shooting 53% from the floor, 43.5% from behind the three-point line, and winning the rebounding battle 41-38. Clearly, Kentucky had the offense to compete with UCLA, but they couldn’t get enough defensive stops to take control of the game. We’ve ranted about this team’s defense all season, but here in the past month or so, it’s become one of their biggest strengths. The Cats held Northern Kentucky and Wichita State to 35.6% from the floor and averaged nine blocks and 35 defensive rebounds per game. That, from the same team that essentially let UCLA do whatever they please.

2. Malik Monk plays defense now

Malik Monk’s shot has failed him thus far in the postseason, but he’s channeling his frustrations and energy into the defensive end. Monk, notorious for his poor defense earlier this year, looks like a different player on that side of the ball now; the best example of that is his huge block with 13 seconds left vs. Wichita State that helped the Cats hang on for the win. Kentucky (and Monk) still get burned on straight line drives from time to time, but it’s really encouraging to see the improved hustle, energy, and — dare I say it — pride on the defensive end.

3. Monk is also due

Kentucky’s ability to win games without Malik scoring probably comes to an end this weekend. Bothered by a lower back bruise due to a hard fall vs. Arkansas, Monk has struggled to get his shot to fall all postseason, averaging 31.2% from the floor and only 20% from three-point land. Even though Monk warmed up a little towards the end of the Wichita State, there’s no denying how tentative and gun shy he looked at the start, which is so out of character for a player like him. Will almost a week’s rest get Monk back on track? You better hope so.


4. Derek Willis is a different player

The mismatch that burned Kentucky the most in December was TJ Leaf vs. Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis. As Calipari said afterwards, Leaf dominated the game, putting up 17 points off 7-12 shooting, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists. Neither Wenyen nor Derek could contain Leaf, nor did they contribute much on the offensive end, combining for a paltry 13 points.

“I mean, what Leaf did, he basically dominated the game,” Cal said. “We had no one, unless I was going to go big lineup, which we haven’t done a whole lot, which shows me maybe we have to be prepared for that. But he killed us. Straight line drives, rebounds, making shots. We left him a couple times. He played.”

Leaf is still a great player, that hasn’t changed; but, what has changed is Derek Willis. Willis has become a rebounding machine, averaging 7.5 boards over his last eight games. You could always rely on Derek for a big three, but now that he’s attacking the boards and playing defense, Kentucky will rely on him to shut down TJ Leaf.

5. Dominique Hawkins is an integral part of the team now

One of the biggest changes since the UCLA game has been the rotation. Not only has Derek Willis replaced Wenyen Gabriel in the starting lineup, Dominique Hawkins has cemented his place as the team’s sixth man. Dom played 16 minutes vs. UCLA in December, finishing with only five points and one rebound. In the past eight games, he’s averaging 24.8 minutes, and although he may not fill up the stat sheet, his presence is undeniable, particularly on defense. It’ll be interesting to see whom Calipari tasks Dom with guarding on Friday night.

6. Kentucky’s more disciplined

As Calipari has noted time and time again, freshmen are freshmen…until they grow up. Kentucky’s grown up a lot in the past month. They’ve learned to win closes games by being patient and not panicking in the stretch. And, as Malik Monk told reporters on Sunday, the backcourt in particular has matured.

“We’re way more together (than we were in December),” Monk said Sunday. “At that point, we were individuals — somebody would try to take over the game by their self. We’re way more together, pass the ball around and whoever has the hot hand, get him the ball.”

7. Bam is better

Bam actually had a double double vs. UCLA with 18 points and 13 rebounds, but ten of those points came at the free throw line. All in all, Bam was 4-12 from the floor for 33% vs. the Bruins; in the past eight games, he’s averaging 63.5% from the floor, a much-improved clip. Bam will face a tough challenge in Thomas “Feathers” Welsh and Ike Anigbogu, but as his mama said Sunday night, Bam’s going to go at them. (Confession: I may have made this point simply so we can watch the clip of Bam’s mom again.)

8. LaVar Ball won’t shut up

In case you missed it earlier, LaVar Ball, Lonzo’s dad, kept running his mouth when it comes to Friday’s matchup, telling a Los Angeles morning show that Kentucky won’t be able to beat his son’s Bruins by running.

“Don’t try to beat them at running. You can’t outrun my boy. Don’t play that game,” Ball said. “UCLA has too many shooters. You give my boy all them shooters, you out of luck.”

Keep talking, LaVar.

9. Revenge

As we’ve gone over, Kentucky’s made a ton of improvements since December: defense, discipline, Derek Willis. But, the one reason I’ve more confident about this game than any other UK’s played in the postseason? The revenge factor. Thank goodness Wichita State was stupid enough to talk smack on Saturday because otherwise, I’m not sure the players would have “gotten up” enough to beat the Shockers. Motivation won’t be a problem vs. the Bruins. Not only is UCLA a prominent program whose star player’s dad won’t stop making headlines, they beat Kentucky in Rupp this year; for a group of young, talented kids, that’s the number one reason to come out of the locker room looking for blood.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

41 Comments for Why UK will beat UCLA on Friday

  1. playmorezeppelin
    7:32 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    I’ve never felt so good about a 50/50 game like this one.

  2. AndTheDevil
    7:48 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    Can we forward this to the players and Cal? It might contain some knowledge they need.

    • ukbradstith
      11:05 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

      Awesome article. Thanks for sharing.

  3. shelby
    7:53 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    I don’t know if i buy the “back-bruise” excuse for monk; i just think he’s lost confidence. I hope i’m wrong and his back is completely healed by thursday’s practice. If i’m right, then i hope his two HUGE plays at the end of WSU have put his confidence back in order. If Monk can bring it friday, and the team plays as well as it has been lately, i think we’ll win by 12 or more. If monk don’t show, it can go either way .

  4. maximumscott
    8:04 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    We had UCLa beat until we couldnt get stops.

    • WeareBBN
      9:07 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

      They had 97 points, when DID we have stops. You say we had it won till we could not get stops, I would say we lost in the 1st minute as giving up 97 points is not getting stops all game.

    • Luether
      2:22 am March 22, 2017 Permalink

      Also, from seeing UCLA play quite a bit this year, I’ll tell you that their 3 Freshmen have improved as much as our 3…

    • catsarerunnin
      7:08 am March 22, 2017 Permalink


  5. KYcats11
    8:05 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    All of this is true. Great post Mrs. TT

  6. ClutchCargo
    8:08 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    This might be the least worried I have been all season about this team really bringing it for this game. Cue up Monk going off for 30+.

  7. nicky
    8:20 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    Excellent in-depth write up TT !

  8. cking
    8:22 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    I love the confidence being displayed in the above comments, but UCLAs offensive prowess really scares me…

    Their ability to offensively separate from opponents makes them dangerous…they hit 3 Treys in 2 minutes versus Cincy and kept rolling.

    The key is can we match them shot for shot?…and can we really play our asses off on defense.

    • EdC
      9:14 am March 22, 2017 Permalink

      Yes they are an offensive powerhouse. Defensively they are terrible as in 77 KenPom terrible. For some reason people don’t really seem to be balancing that into the equation.

      Kentucky is a far more balanced team than UCLA. If UK has an off night offensively they still have a shot because of defense. Not true for the Bruins.

  9. mostdiggity
    8:41 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    Good read Mrs. T, uhmm… but I think you forgot to mention this in your last article:

  10. GroundControlToNumber9
    8:45 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    Tyler, your article stands on the position that UCLA did what they wanted against UK on December 3rd because UK… let them (in summary).

    “Not only did Kentucky let UCLA score 97 points back in December, they let the Bruins beat them in every facet of the game, shooting 53% from the floor, 43.5% from behind the three-point line, and winning the rebounding battle 41-38.”

    The problem here remains… UCLA has done this to everybody all season long.
    —> As a team they average: <—-
    52.1% – Field Goals
    40.6% – 3 Pointers
    39 – Rebounds
    74.1% – Free Throws

    UCLA Season Statistics:
    TJ Leaf…………29.8..16.2..8.2..2.5..0.6….61.6%…68.6%…45.6%
    Bryce Alford…..33.0..15.6..2.5..2.6..0.5….44.8%…82.1%…43.3%
    Lonzo Ball…..…35.0..14.7..6.1..7.6..1.9….55.6%…67.7%…42.0%
    Isaac Hamilton..29.9..14.0..3.5..2.8..0.7….44.8%…82.1%…35.5%
    Aaron Holiday…26.5..12.5..2.9..4.4..1.1….48.5%…80.6%…41.4%

    The point is UK didn’t let UCLA compile their season averages against us. The full season proves this UCLA team averaged those results.

    This is a very important distinction to make. That is their average performance.

    Given that… Kentucky is playing much better defense and clearly will be a different team with more capabilities to be competitive than we saw on December 3rd.

    Derek Willis has improved on defense & getting rebounds throughout the year. He will have to summon the great Arapaho warrior Yellow Eagle stop TJ Leaf (the projected 12th pick in the 2017 NBA draft… 4 spots above Bam Adabayo).

    The obvious dividing line between success & failure is:

    Disciplined Basketball:
    – We have to have everyone show up <– UCLA has the advantage here
    – Stay in our lanes <– UCLA has the advantage here

    X Factors:
    – Leverage our athleticism <– UK has the advantage here
    – Leverage our fanbase in the arena <– UK has the advantage here… game in Memphis

    • WeareBBN
      9:14 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

      Good points but averages are also misleading since alot of those games are against bad teams. Last 7 games or so they have been in the 70’s including twice against Zona. Only game they scored big was vs Kent St. Plus the Pac how ever many teams they have plays little defense.

    • maximumscott
      9:14 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

      You haven to see their SOS in the 200s for Nonconference and close to 100 for conference. Yes they have great averages but mostly against inept defensive teams. Cincy held them to 79. Cincy just doesnt have the mentality for a stage that big. They held ucla to 30 in first half. Ucla does have spurtability but concy completely broke down and looked like they caved to defeat. UK is mentally tougher and has better athletes on the defensive. Also, dont forget cincy just got blasted by SMU by 20 a few games ago. I think we win bc we shut down leaf and ball does too much. I think ball is ready for the stage but the rest of his team isnt.

  11. GroundControlToNumber9
    8:54 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    On December 3rd the game might as well have not even have been played in Rupp Arena. Our players didn’t use their home court advantage.

    How does a player do this —> by getting the fans involved: How?

    1. Play tough ‘refuse to lose defense’ every possession (without fouling… this takes the energy out of the building momentum).

    This is like spoon feeding the BBN beast.

    2. Get steals (see above : defense)

    3. Play team based half court offense. Setting up each other for easy shots at the rim.
    4. Not settling for jump shots when you can take the ball to the rim.

    If we win, it will be at the rim.

    • cking
      9:18 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

      Do you think we can win?

      I agree with you that UCLA is very very skilled….

      I think they have to have a bad shooting night for us to win…

    • GroundControlToNumber9
      9:40 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

      cking – This team (at this point in the season & completely healthy) can beat anybody.

      But our margin of error is thinner than other UK Championship teams (and more than most other teams… but it’s the nature of the beast with young benches).

      Here’s Why:

      1. Which version of… Briscoe, Gabriel, Willis, Monk, Humphries, are we going to see each game?

      When that many players are having that much variation in their play it means no one can accurately predict the outcome of the Friday game (not even keen observers with years of paying attention to all the little details).

      Fortunately Cal is a magic man when it comes to ‘getting a young group ready in 5 months‘. All that really boils down to is each player learning what ‘championship team basketball’ is and being more consistent in presenting that every night (see: eliminating bad habits for good).

      To answer your question: We can win even if UCLA plays their ‘average’ game (see stats above). But that won’t be our average game. That will be a bunch of elite 5 star athletes showing the world they are able to listen to Cal and do what he says.

  12. Game Changer
    9:20 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    Good attempt at an analysis for a woman, now go make me a sandwich
    But seriously… It will come down to two things… Rebounding and turnovers.
    Whoever wins those two categories will win the game.
    You will not be able to slow them down… Wenyn Gabriel is just terrible on offense
    and defense so you can’t rely on him to stop Leaf, Willis is a nice kid but a complete head case
    so you don’t know which version will show up…. so it comes down to both offensive rebounding to get
    second chance points (if monk is cold) and defensive rebounding to give them only one chance at
    making a shot. Secondly, we need to make them have turnovers with full court press and trapping, play a little zone defense and more importantly we can’t have more than 7 turnovers in the whole game, I think Briscoe alone had 5 in the last meeting… where is my sandwich woman

    • runningunnin.454
      9:42 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

      “for a woman”?
      Boy, you are living dangerously.

    • GroundControlToNumber9
      9:53 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

      Game Changer – So based on your ‘pick 2 stats’ analysis method of picking the winner… UK won on December the 3rd (not).

      Team—– O Reb—–D Reb—–TOTAL Reb —-Turnovers

      Sorry Game Changer but this game is a statistical outlier to say the least.

      More to that point:

      – They took 66 shots and we took 80.
      – They took 21 free throws we took 27.
      – They had 4 steals we had 8.
      – They had 11 offensive rebounds they had 11.

    • GroundControlToNumber9
      9:54 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

      Correction: — They had 11 offensive rebounds we had 19.

    • GroundControlToNumber9
      10:32 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

      Correction: Sorry, that stat line got totally mixed as I was trying to pull it in & reformat from ESPN

      UK vs UCLA Dec 3rd:
      Team–— O Reb–-—D Reb––—TOTAL Reb –—Turnovers—- Steals

      If you look at that stat line you’d think Kentucky would have won. But the game was never within grasp as our defense was surgically dominated.

    • maximumscott
      12:28 am March 22, 2017 Permalink

      Surgically? Watch that game again and tell me if you see effort? I can 100% say after watching it that we didnt have the intensity and effort needed to compete with UCLA that day especially when they were on fire. Youre giving too much credit to UCLAs offense when our defense was a mess against anyone we played. LSU hung nearly 90 on us. Jus sayin most of the time teams that buckle down and play smart hard tough defense the whole game will typically win if they have a decent offense to go with it.

    • [email protected]
      2:15 am March 24, 2017 Permalink

      I think Monk is gonna be ON.. but I hope Fox & Briscoe don’t “hog” the ball & pass it out when they’re covered under the basket, & DON’T TRY TO SHOOT… as far as Gabriel & humphries… they can’t seem to keep the “oil” off their fingers to hold on to the ball… & how many CLOSE or LAY-UP shots have they missed this season?? The absolute first thing they do when they go in….. the game… is FOUL!!
      KY don’t need that in this game!!
      Play as a team, share the ball..OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS, few TO’s ……. don’t forget FREE THROWS!!! Gotta hit ’em to WIN!!
      #GOCATS #GOMONK!!!!!!!

    • ComebackCats
      10:45 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

      Game changer, you are an absolute tool and your misogynistic “jokes” aren’t funny. Tyler is by far the smartest and best writer on this site. Go make yourself a damn sandwich and enjoy living in your Mom’s basement.

    • catsarerunnin
      7:13 am March 22, 2017 Permalink

      Game Changer I’m pretty sure Mrs.TT has more balls than you ever will. Now go make her a sandwich and hold the mayo.

  13. AGSlater
    9:23 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    I hope you are right. I just dont see how we can stop their jumpshooting forwards. Willis cant stop anyone and Gabriel is a liability

    • cking
      11:13 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

      Agreed..Welsh and Leaf can really Pop out and stretch the defense..Welsh in particular is dangerous.

      Their terrific Spacing killed us last time….and led to our poor defense.

    • catsarerunnin
      7:09 am March 22, 2017 Permalink

      Slater the hater.

  14. JTaylor22
    9:29 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    Probably won’t have much of an effect, but they also have a coach that is not quite denying rumors connecting him to the IU job. May be distraction for them, may not, but I’d rather them be in that situation than us.

  15. chris43
    10:29 pm March 21, 2017 Permalink

    If we can play smart, hit our shots, and defend the 3 we should pull out the win. It’ll be a tough game but I got faith. I’m soooo hoping Monk gets hot and goes off for about 35-40 points. GO BIG BLUE BABY!

  16. t_f_licker
    8:27 am March 22, 2017 Permalink

    The thought that the opposing team has to talk smack in order for us to “get up” to play in the NCAA tournament is exactly what scares me about this game.

  17. rbbarnh1
    12:33 pm March 22, 2017 Permalink

    I see what you did there! 9 points to #9! GO CATS!
    (Long time reader – first time posting)

  18. dballrb
    3:56 pm March 22, 2017 Permalink

    Just because Monk is “due”,dosent mean anything. He’s been due several times this season and played poorly again.

  19. BigBlueApps
    5:22 pm March 22, 2017 Permalink

    2 days, 4 hours and counting… KENTUCKY vs UCLA: Friday, March 24, 2017 at 9:39 PM EDT on CBS