BOZICH | Kentucky-UCLA prediction and 3 final thoughts
Three final thoughts -- and a prediction by Rick Bozich -- on the Kentucky-UCLA Sweet Sixteen game Friday night in Memphis.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WDRB) -- Just hours before game time, here are three final thoughts and a prediction on the Kentucky-UCLA game, which will be played around 9:45 p.m. Friday at FedEx Forum. The winner advances to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament South Regional.
1. Kentucky Must Deal With UCLA's length.
I discussed the first UK-UCLA game, the one the Bruins won, 97-92, on the first Saturday in December in Rupp Arena with Mike Pratt, the former UK star who works on Kentucky's radio network.
Kentucky shot only 41.3 percent in that game. Two guys really struggled. One was freshman center Bam Adebayo, who missed eight of 12 shots. The other was Isaiah Briscoe. He was 4-for-14, missing all five attempts from distance.
Pratt said that when he studied a replay of the game, he counted at least a half-dozen shots that Kentucky missed that were five feet or less from the rim. Not just the six shots that UCLA blocked. At least six additional shots.
And Kentucky still nearly won on a day when the Wildcats also missed nine free throws.
The Wildcats can get to the rim against UCLA. They'll simply need to finish.
2. UCLA's Transition Defense Is Vulnerable
It's been argued that the Wildcats would be better served playing the game in the 70s, instead of racing to another 97-92 finish. Some Kentucky players said that during their media availability Thursday. I agreed. Why try to outscore an elite offense?
Here's why: UCLA's primary defensive weakness is transition defense. You can beat the Bruins with a well-executed fast break.
That's not Twitter talk. That is what the numbers at SynergySports say, too.
According to Synergy, UCLA ranks as a Below Average team in transition defense, worse than 74 percent of all Division I teams.
Opposing teams have scored 383 points on 358 transition opportunities, which translates into 1.07 points per possession. UCLA's defensive number in half-court defense is considerably better, 0.85 points per possession.
Run 'em if you've got 'em.
3. UCLA's Guards Love the Three-Point Shot
Who's coaching these Bruins -- 2017 Steve Alford or 1987 Rick Pitino?
I suspected that Alford's son, Bryce, the Bruins' senior guard, would feast at the three-point line. And he has. Alford has taken better than 71 percent of his field goal attempts from distance.
Why not? He's a 43.3 percent shooter, the school's No. 5 all-time leading scorer, a guy with more points as a Bruin that Bill Walton, Marques Johnson or Baron Davis.
But for all the talk about Lonzo Ball's ability to pass the ball, he's a terrific three-point shooter, too. Ball also loves to launch from deep. More than 55 percent of his field-goal attempts have been threes, and he's also making better than 40 percent of his attempts (42.0 percent).
It should be an epic game, perhaps the best one in the tournament.
I'll take Kentucky 83, UCLA 79.
The Wildcats are a notch better offensively, they're less reliant on the three-point shot, and they showed the poise and persistence to overcome a formidable Wichita State team in Indianapolis last Sunday.
If they played 10 games on a neutral court, I think each team would win five. If they played 100 games on a neutral court, I think Kentucky would in 51.
The Wildcats only need to win one -- this one Friday night.
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