Kentucky Visits UCLA in Battle of Bluebloods
LOS ANGELES – It was nearly one year ago that No. 1 Kentucky faced UCLA in Chicago in the inaugural CBS Sports Classic. What ensued was an historic outcome and one of the most impressive performances in UK’s 38-1 season.
|Kentucky vs. UCLA|
|Thur., Dec. 3 - 9 p.m. ET
Los Angeles, Calif.
Game Notes: UK | UCLA
Digital Gameday Program
|UK||2015-16 Team Stats||UCLA|
Just don’t expect to see it again Thursday at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.
“Last year was an outlier,” UK head coach John Calipari said Monday. “I had a ridiculous team. And they would go into a game like that to smoke somebody, like they did Kansas. They would go in with that mentality. This team is, we don't have that mentality.”
Billed as one of the more intriguing matchups of the nonconference season last year, Kentucky entered its game vs. UCLA with a strong reputation after having thoroughly outplayed Kansas in Indianapolis in the State Farm Champions Classic.
Instead, Kentucky put together as complete of a performance on a national stage as you will ever see, and the intriguing matchup became a jaw-dropping blowout. UK raced out to a 24-0 lead and led 41-7 at halftime, the lowest scoring output by a UK opponent in the past 31 years of UK’s storied history.
This year’s team may not have that mentality yet that Coach Cal is asking for, but it should be noted that in its biggest game of the year, a top-five showdown against Duke at the Champions Classic, it did play its best and most complete game of the season. It should also be noted that UK had sophomore Tyler Ulis in that game, and his status is still uncertain for Thursday’s matchup against UCLA with a hyperextended right elbow.
But after a sluggish performance Monday night at Rupp Arena where the Wildcats were missing Ulis and struggled to gain separation from a pesky Illinois State team, Coach Cal is more concerned with how his team will respond to physicality in the paint than replicating any sort of performance from last season.
“I tell you what, if they watch this game, they're going to post us up,” Calipari said of UCLA after Monday’s game against the Redbirds. “Tony Parker is, every time they throw it, they're going to go at our bigs. So we better have some ideas what have we're going to do.”
He’s also concerned with his team doing a bit of self-reflection and self-evaluation. After a number of inconsistent performances, Coach Cal says many of his players need to look in the mirror, find out what they do best and become the best versions of themselves.
Coach Cal held individual meetings with each player on the team over the past week. For Marcus Lee, the question centered around what the outgoing, springy forward needed to do to get to the next level. The answer, of course, is bring energy to the game, grab rebounds and be a defensive presence.
After his first career double-double, Lee was absent in the ensuing three games, so Calipari took the California native out of the starting lineup and told him if he wanted to play he had to bring energy. What followed was a 13-point, 12-rebound performance against Illinois State that had his Coach gushing afterward.
Now, Coach Cal is looking for the same from Alex Poythress in becoming an elite athlete day in and da -out, Jamal Murray to get to the line and Isaiah Briscoe to hit free throws, among other players.
“The thing about elite athletes and world-class athletes, they can evaluate their performance and say, all right, I got to fix this,” Calipari said. “They self-evaluate and that's what this team needs to do.
“It is demoralizing when guys go up and miss four front-end one-and-ones in the first half and we miss 10 free throws. Four of them front-end one-and-ones. That's like missing 14 free throws. It is demoralizing. Now you can miss a couple, but you can't miss them all and expect to be on that court. You just can't. So, again, self-evaluate, I'm going to get to that line, I'm going to want to be at that line, I'm not going to shoot air balls from the foul line. It's not going to be who I am.”
In addition to the obvious difference in personnel from a year ago, Thursday’s game is also the first true road game of the season for Kentucky.
Of the 11 times these two famed programs have met, only once have they faced off in Los Angeles. Kentucky won that matchup, 68-66, on Dec. 4, 1959 – nearly 56 years to the day from this season’s meeting.
Symmetry aside, Thursday’s game will be a litmus test of sorts for both teams. Kentucky, with or without Ulis, will be able to see how it fares against a quality opponent on its home court. UCLA (4-3), on the other hand, will host the No. 1 Wildcats with an opportunity to get its first marquee victory of the season and exact a bit of revenge from a 39-point defeat one year ago.
UK arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon and got a practice in at the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice facility. The team then practiced again Wednesday at famed Pauley Pavilion.
On Thursday, nearly one year after its blowout victory over the Bruins and 56 years after its first and only appearance in Los Angeles, Kentucky will have a chance to see if it can make a little more history, find out more about itself, and get some answers from its self-evaluation.
“The history of that program,” Calipari said of UCLA. “And I think us, having an opportunity to go there … it's going to be neat. A neat trip.”