Sweet 16 Preview: Kentucky vs. UCLA
Once the NCAA tournament brackets were released, college hoops fans hoped for a UCLA/Kentucky rematch in the Sweet 16. After surviving tough games in the round of 32, the Bruins and Wildcats will face off in Memphis for a berth in the Elite 8. In their first matchup in December, the two teams gave us one of the best games of the season as UCLA won 97-92. The rematch should be another high scoring game, filled with future NBA players. UCLA head coach, Steve Alford, will try to guide the Bruins to their first Elite 8 since 2008. John Calipari, who is coaching his first game in Memphis since he left there for Kentucky, will try to advance to his sixth Elite 8 since becoming the face of Big Blue Nation.
Storylines to Watch:
Malik Monk’s shooting woes
Since the start of postseason play, Malik Monk has been awfully cold. The Bentonville, Arkansas native has shot 18 of 54 from the field during the Wildcats last six games. Kentucky has been able to overcome Monk’s slump, but none of those teams are in UCLA’s league. Monk played well in the first game against the Bruins, scoring 24 points and nailing four threes. In Kentucky’s other four losses, Monk has struggled, shooting just 36% from the field. If Monk gets it going like we've seen in the past, he could carry UK to the Elite 8.
Lonzo Ball vs. De’Aaron Fox
Ball and Fox are both projected top 10 picks in June’s NBA draft and several scouts and GMs will be in Memphis to watch them square off. Fox won the individual matchup back in December, shredding UCLA’s defense for 20 points and 9 assist. Ball struggled with six turnovers and shot just 2 of 8 from behind the arc, but he made key plays in the final minutes to seal the win for UCLA. Fox should shine again in round two, as UCLA continues to struggle with its perimeter and interior defense. Lonzo Ball has been lights out from the outside so far in the tourney, and he’s had just two turnovers through two games. His struggles in that first game shouldn't be a concern for the Bruins. This game should come down to the final possession, so whoever makes the most plays down the stretch is likely to decide who wins the game and who gets drafted first in June.
Holiday had a solid freshman season as a starter in 2016, but he transitioned to a reserve upon the arrival of Lonzo Ball. Clearly Holiday decided to embrace his new role, as he is arguably the best sixth man in college basketball. The younger brother of NBA players Justin and Jrue Holiday allows UCLA’s high octane offense to remain potent when Ball takes a breather or if he's struggling. Holiday’s 13 points and 4 assist were big for UCLA against Kentucky back in December when Ball wasn't his usual self. With 15 points and 11 assists in UCLA’s first round win, the Bruins will count on similar production from their sixth man during Friday’s rematch.
On a team that starts 3 freshmen, sophomore Isaiah Briscoe is considered a veteran leader and the team’s heart and soul. On offense, Briscoe helps facilitate Coach Cal’s offense (4.1 assist a game), and he contributes on the boards (5.1 rebounds per game). However, Kentucky is at their best when Briscoe is playing aggressively and looking to score. Briscoe shot 4 of 14 from the field in the first game against UCLA, and he can't afford a repeat performance with leading scorer Malik Monk in a shooting slump. The Wildcats will need Briscoe to assert himself on both ends of the floor on Friday if they want to keep pace with the Bruins.
UCLA 89 Kentucky 86. More Lavar Ball quotables.