When: Saturday 4pm ET
Where: New Orleans, Louisiana
Betting Line Kentucky -6.5 via Bovada
The second match of the CBS Sports Classic features an NCAA tourney second round rematch between UCLA and the Wildcats of Kentucky: The Bruins will look to avenge their tourney loss and beat the Wildcats for the third time in their last four tries.
The second half of the CBS Sports Classic will feature an epic battle between two college basketball blue bloods. The UCLA Bruins and Kentucky Wildcats will face off for a third time in the last 12 months. Last year, the Bruins and Lonzo Ball went into Rupp Arena and dominated the Wildcats. However, in the tourney, the Wildcats got revenge as De’Aaron Fox wiped to floor with Ball and the Bruins to move onto to the Sweet Sixteen. For the most part, a vast majority of the players involved from a year ago are gone, so it’ll be a new batch of guys who will be featured on Saturday night’s game.
Both the Wildcats and Bruins are young basketball teams that seem to being going the opposite directions. The Bruins basketball season has been off to the rails since the start of the year when three of their freshmen players, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, and Liangelo Ball, were arrested and then suspended indefinitely for shoplifting in China. As of yesterday, the school officially announced that Riley and Hill have been suspended for the season. As you probably know, Ball has dropped out of UCLA and signed a contract to play basketball in Lithuania. Losing Riley and Hill has decimated UCLA’s front court depth, and the off court distractions have significantly impacted the Bruins’ performance on the court this season. At the end of the December, the Bruins are 8-3, but they are in desperate need of a resume-boosting win. The Bruins are ranked just 91st in RPI and are ranked 56th according to KenPom. During their narrow 85-82 win over South Dakota, the Bruins survived a 27-3 run ‘Yotes run that nearly caused the Bruins to blow a 24 point lead with 4 minutes left in the 2nd half. The Bruins have struggled mightily against the press their last two games. The Bruins will need to vastly improve their play to have a chance of defeating the #7 Wildcats. A win over Kentucky would be a huge resume-boosting win that UCLA has been desperate for.
John Calipari leads another young Kentucky squad against the Bruins. Kentucky standouts Malik Young and De’Aaron Fox are gone, but forward Kevin Knox (15.8 points) and guards Hamidou Diallo (15.2), Quade Green (11), and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (10) have proven to be dynamic replacements thus far. This Kentucky team’s success is driven from their defensive intensity and efficiency. The Wildcats ranked 14th in overall defensive efficiency and 8th in the country in blocked shots.
Also, Calipari is utilizing more full court pressures throughout the game, something that is not very common with Calipari coached teams. Expect the Wildcats the utilize full court pressure often, since the Bruins have been one of the worst teams against the press all year. The Cincinnati Bearcats used a full court pressure to force 15 first half turnovers against the Bruins, allowing the Bearcats to go on an 18-0 run to close out the first half.
Many will be eyeing the matchup between guards Aaron Holiday, Jaylen Hands, Hameli Diallo, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. However, the most impactful matchup in this game will be between the two big men, featuring UCLA’s Thomas Welsh and Kentucky’s Nick Richard. The UCLA senior forward has had great success in his career against Kentucky, averaging 14.6 points in his 3 career games against Big Blue. Welsh has enjoyed a stellar season, quietly averaging 13.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. UCLA is going to need Welsh to have another stellar game in order to win against Kentucky. Richards will easily be the biggest defensive test Welsh has faced all year. Richards ranks 6th among freshmen with 16 blocks and has a top 30 defensive rating among big men. Richards has shown to be a capable scorer on the offensive end, averaging 8.6 points per game. In addition, UCLA will need to find an answer for Kentucky 6’9 freshman forward Kevin Knox who leads the Wildcats in scoring at 15.8 points per game. UCLA will need 5 star freshmen Kris Wilkes to show defensive fortitude and reveal why he was regarded as a future NBA lottery pick before the season started.
Although Malik Monk, Lonzo Ball, and De’Aaron Fox are not battling in this game there are still many talented young prospects that are suiting up for college basketball’s most historic blue bloods. This should be a very up-tempo game that should contain the maximum number of possessions. We will see the best games from both of UCLA and Kentucky’s freshmen superstars. However, the Bruins will need super performances from their veterans Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday in order to have a chance of upsetting the Wildcats in the CBS Sports Classic. The Bruins defense will have no answer for the Wildcats. I expect Kentucky to run away with a score of 86-78.