10 Reasons Kentucky Can Beat UCLA
As Friday night slowly approaches the vast majority of the national media are picking UCLA to beat Kentucky. On top of that the Bruins already beat the Wildcats once this season and did it in Rupp Arena to boot. It would be easy for Big Blue Nation to be feeling pretty pessimistic right about now but here are 10 reasons for the Wildcat faithful to be optimistic.
- John Calipari vs Steve Alford– Lets start right here because this may be the biggest advantage that Kentucky has. There continues to be some fans who claim Calipari is not a good in-game coach but the numbers just don’t back that up. Cal has a 10-2 record in Sweet 16 games compared to Steve Alford who is 0-3. Sure Cal has had the benefit of being the higher seed in several of those games but he has also played the role of underdog as well. After last season the majority of UCLA fans wanted Alford gone and many still feel that way despite this season. He has been a solid but relatively mediocre coach for the majority of his career. This is his first team in 20 years as a division 1 head coach with a legit shot to win a National title. He played and succeeded on the big stage as a player but doing it as a coach is different. This is not Cal’s first rodeo and his track record gives the Cats a big edge.
- Distractions, distractions, distractions– UCLA has several things that could serve as a distraction going into the game Friday night. The biggest is that their head coach Steve Alford appears to be the number one target to be the next coach at Indiana. He has already had to answer questions about it and will certainly be asked about it more at tomorrow’s press conference. Some reports have stated that once the season ends he intends to accept the offer to return to his home state. Either way it will not help him have his mind 100% on the Wildcats and it will also be a distraction for his players. The other distraction is LaVar Ball, the father of the Bruins freshman point guard Lonzo Ball. LaVar continues to draw a lot of attention to himself and to his son. It only seems like a matter of time before he says something to rile up UK fans. Lonzo and his teammates are going to have to answer a lot of questions about LaVar tomorrow and that circus can take a toll on a team eventually. Kentucky on the other hand continues to fly under the radar which allows them to just focus on basketball.
- Crowd advantage– Yes Memphis is almost 7 hours away from Lexington but last I checked that is a fair bit closer than the 26 hours from Memphis to LA. No fan base travels like Big Blue Nation and this should be another chance for them to show it. North Carolina should have a solid crowd but Durham is 11 hours away from Memphis. That means Kentucky should have the majority of fans in the stands at tip-off on Friday night. The crowd should help energize the Wildcats and give them a little edge.
- Kentucky has gotten better– It has been just a shade less than four months since UCLA beat Kentucky. That is so long ago that it can almost be deemed irrelevant. In that time the Wildcats have grown and improved a great deal. UCLA has improved as well but they seem to be very close to the same team that Kentucky played on December 3rd.
- Unleash the Monk– Malik Monk has went through a bit of a cold streak over the last 6 games. He is due to break out of that cold streak in a bag way and Friday night seems like the perfect time for him to do it. He is the most dynamic offensive player in college basketball and he seems to love showing it on the biggest stages. If he gets going the Bruins will be in trouble.
- Defensive efficiency– Kentucky is now has the 8th best defensive efficiency in the nation according to kenpom.com. UCLA is ranked 78th in that category and that is miles away from championship level defense. Since the first meeting the Cats have learned how to defend and the Bruins have not. These numbers could play a big factor in determining the winner of this game.
- The seniors– Dominique Hawkins had a much smaller role when the teams first met and has since become an integral part of the Cats rotation. He will be called on to slow down the Bruins many high scoring guards and bring energy to the team. Derek Willis has elevated his game to another level on the defensive end and on the backboards. TJ Leaf ate the Cats alive in the first meeting but Willis seems to be much more prepared to face him this time around. Mychal Mulder did not play at all in the first game but has since carved out a spot as a contributor in spot minutes. He will give the Cats one more weapon off the bench this time around. Led by Hawkins, all three of these seniors are going to leave it all on the floor win or lose Friday night.
- Bam Bam– He is one of the most dominant big men left in the NCAA tournament and he is playing better than he has all season long. If he can stay out of foul trouble he will be a huge problem for UCLA who really has no one to match up with his size. He also has 58 rebounds in the Cats first two tournament games which is a Kentucky record.
- The Fox factor– Lonzo Ball gets all the hype as the pest pure freshman point guard and potential #1 draft pick and he is certainly very good. But De’Aaron Fox ain’t chopped liver. As a matter of fact he has been the best player on the floor for Kentucky as of late and he will play a big role on Friday. He does not need to worry about trying to outplay Ball, he simply needs to play to his strengths.
- Pay back time– Yes it was a long time ago that UCLA beat Kentucky this season but you can be sure that the Cats have not forgotten it. It was the first loss of the season and it came at Rupp Arena. Kentucky will have a point to prove on Friday night and that will just be a little extra fuel.
All of this does not mean the Cats are a lock to win but I do think they have a good chance. Hang in there Big Blue Nation because this is going to be a wild ride!