The first time they met, Kentucky and UCLA provided one of the most entertaining games of the season. When the teams meet on Friday night, there’s a chance it could be the game of the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats took a rare home loss under John Calipari when the Bruins and freshman point guard Lonzo Ball scored a 97-92 win. Now the Wildcats and Bruins meet in Memphis, Tenn., with a spot in the Elite Eight. And ESPN’s Dick Vitale expects it to be “the most sexiest game in the field.”
“Kentucky-UCLA, as soon as you say the names you think about greatness. It’s a sexy, sexy matchup. It’s the most sexiest game in the field. This game has some of the best diaper dandies in nation,” Vitale told SEC Country. “It starts with Lonzo Ball but then you factor in a kid who is terrific and really gave Kentucky fits the first time they played in T.J. Leaf. They’re as good an offensive team in their efficiency as anybody in the country.”
Leaf had 17 points and 13 rebounds in the win, while Ball had 14 points and 7 assists. Many are pointing to Kentucky’s defense as the key to the game, as the Bruins offense have one of the best offenses in the country — No. 2 in Kenpom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings.
But Vitale points out that Calipari will use that early loss to get his players, notably point guard De’Aaron Fox and shooting guard Malik Monk, to focus in defense.
“John Calipari is a master motivator,” Vitale said. “He gets the most out of people and I guarantee he is banging that home like crazy. ‘They came in and embarrassed us on our floor and this is the one that really counts.’ ”
The most recent time UCLA and Kentucky met in the NCAA Tournament was in the Sweet 16 back in 1998. The Wildcats won and went on to win the national championship. The other time the teams met in the NCAA Tournament was in the 1975 national title game, which UCLA won.
And while Vitale, who is helping fans make prediction’s using the Allstate Bracket Predictor a predictive tool that analyzes a number of statistics and probability metrics, isn’t quite ready to say the Wildcats will win it all — his pre-tournament national title game prediction was North Carolina over Gonzaga — he does like the Wildcats to move on.
“My gut tells me that somehow and some way Kentucky is going to find a way to survive even though I have great respect and admiration for the year for UCLA has had,” Vitale said.
The Wildcats and Bruins tip off at 9:39 p.m. ET. TV coverage: CBS.