UCLA clearly outmatched in 83-44 blowout loss to Kentucky
By Jordan Lee
Dec. 20, 2014 10:03 p.m.
CHICAGO — In a battle of college basketball blue bloods, Kentucky just left UCLA black and blue.
The top-ranked Wildcats overwhelmed an undermanned Bruin squad en route to a resounding 83-44 victory, as Kentucky freshman guard Devin Booker led all scorers with 19 points.
To contend with No. 1 Kentucky (12-0), UCLA (8-4) needed to play a perfect game. Instead, the Wildcats perfectly embarrassed the Bruins.
By the time freshman forward Kevon Looney scored UCLA’s first bucket of the game with 12:17 to go in the first half, Kentucky led 24-2. By halftime, that lead grew to 41-7.
The Wildcats shot 45.7 percent from the field in the first period and netted 16 fast-break points while the Bruins missed their first 17 shots of the game. UCLA made just two of its next 20 following Looney’s initial field goal in what was the latest and most humiliating of the Bruins’ recent first-half struggles.
“We’ve just got to focus more and be ready to play right out of the gate. We can’t come out scared, we can’t come out tentative or passive,” said sophomore guard Bryce Alford, who finished with 13 points. “We’ve got to come out and know the capabilities that we have as a team and trust each other and trust our abilities and come out aggressive.”
The Bruins didn’t, as they struggled mightily – and that’s an understatement – against a deep, athletic and long Wildcat squad. Kentucky’s platoon system stymied a languishing UCLA team, as 10 Wildcats played more than 10 minutes, with none seeing more than 23 in the game.
UCLA didn’t hit a single jump shot, had just one assist and more turnovers than points through the first 20 minutes against the nation’s top defense. The Bruins labored just to move the ball or find an open shot against the Wildcats – and when they did, they often failed to connect.
And yet, that still doesn’t completely capture the Bruins ineptitude and ineffectiveness in their 41-7 first-half drubbing at the hands of the Wildcats. UCLA’s seven points were its lowest point total in an opening half in UCLA history and the lowest by a Kentucky opponent since World War II.
“That’s terrible. You should never play a game where you score seven points in a half,” Looney said. “Coach drills us better than that in practice and we’re a much better offensive team than that.”
For what it’s worth – not much – UCLA put a better showing in the second half, in that it managed to muster double digits in points over the final 20 minutes of the game.
The Bruins shot 44.1 percent, up from 8.1 in the first half. Only five of their shots were blocked, down from eight. They turned the ball over one time less than before. They hit 12 jump shots instead of zero, and the Wildcats only outscored them 42-35 in building a game-high 46-point lead at one point.
Indeed, the best that could be said for UCLA on Saturday was that just one player was in foul trouble and the Wildcats outrebounded the Bruins by only six.
Numbers and words hardly sum up the depth of UCLA’s embarrassment – or its futility – though they’ll have to do.
What isn’t difficult to encapsulate is just how far apart these two programs are. UCLA’s lack of depth and experience were just as apparent against Kentucky as they were against North Carolina and Gonzaga, both of whom were ranked in the top 10 when the Bruins lost to them.
Kentucky, meanwhile, is clearly college basketball’s crown jewel at present. All 12 of the WIldcats’ victories have come by more than 10 points. There’s no sign of them slowing down anytime soon.
“I don’t know in my 20 years of coaching at the Division I level that I’ve coached against a better team than what this team looks like,” said coach Steve Alford. “They have everything.”
Meanwhile, UCLA had little next to nothing to offer. The Bruins couldn’t penetrate the Wildcats’ bevy of big men, couldn’t slow their athletic wings and couldn’t avoid the simple fact that a program long regarded as one of the premier in college basketball is currently nowhere near that echelon.
“This is a team that is full-on inexperienced – it’s not an excuse. I’m not giving any excuses for 41-7. That should not take place,” Steve Alford said. “(Our guys) aren’t ready (to compete with the likes of Kentucky). It is what it is. We just don’t have that experience.”
As a result, UCLA heads back to Westwood, where the dust on those 11 national championship banners will seem a whole lot more visible, and the mountain that the program needs to climb back to national prominence far steeper.