It’s getting to that time of year where college basketball is highly prioritized as a part of our Saturday afternoon plans. Tomorrow afternoon, as part of the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago, the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats will be taking on the UCLA Bruins. On a Saturday with a full slate of college basketball, this may be the most intriguing matchup of them all.
The Wildcats, sitting at a perfect 11-0 record to begin the 2014-2015 season, are coming off an impressive win a week ago against No. 24 UNC. The Wildcats were led by junior center, Willie Cauley-Stein, who put up 15 points and six rebounds, along with freshman guard, Devin Booker, who provided another 15 points. This game was played a few days after the team announced it had lost a consistent member of its Final Four squad from a year ago, junior forward Alex Poythress, to a torn ACL during practice.
So far into this young season, Kentucky looks like an instant national championship favorite, even after losing Poythress. This is a Kentucky team with veterans, something we haven’t seen much of throughout the John Calipari era (i.e. one-and-dones such as John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight, and Anthony Davis just to name a few). This year’s Kentucky team brings back instant, veteran game changers from last year’s improbable Final Four run, including Aaron and Andrew Harrison, along with a freshmen phenom, Karl Towns. The team also runs 10 players in a very deep rotation, an advantage that will certainly benefit the team come March Madness time.
UCLA is being led this season by sophomore guard, Bryce Alford, the son of UCLA coach, Steve Alford. They also are being led by senior guard, Norman Powell, who is averaging over 17 points per game, as well as freshman forward, Kevon Looney, who is averaging nearly 14 points and 11 rebounds per game. UCLA may not be ranked, but they have the athleticism and the shot-making capability to compete with Kentucky on both ends of the floor.
For Kentucky, the key to winning this game will be to use its unprecedented size advantage. Kentucky implements a starting lineup where the smallest player on the court is 6’6”. If Kentucky is able to rebound the basketball effectively, and eliminate second chance opportunities for UCLA, they should be able to take full control of this game.
For UCLA, the keys to them staying in this game will be to shoot the ball efficiently, along with establishing a pace. While Kentucky has the clear height and length advantage, UCLA must be able to effectively spread the court and knock down open jump shots. UCLA, entering this game with an 8-3 record, is used to playing games against high-ranked opponents. Two of their three losses this season have come against then-ranked, No.5 UNC, and No. 9 Gonzaga.
Game time is set for 3:30pm eastern time Saturday afternoon. This game will be Kentucky’s last test before a highly anticipated matchup next weekend against No. 4 Louisville. Before this game at the United Center in Chicago, the 1pm EST matchup will feature No. 24 UNC and No. 12 Ohio State. I’m looking forward to an exciting afternoon of college basketball!
*Section Photo credit to Andy Lyons, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Richard Mackson, USA Today Sports.