Saturday, December 27, 2014

Kentucky 83 - 44 UCLA (Chicago) (No. 2,152)

I was at the Georgetown/Charlotte game last Saturday, and it was a great game -- the Hoyas blew a big lead, but held on for an 81-78 win.  Nevertheless, I spent much of the second half thinking about this game.  UK and UCLA have combined to win 19 national titles, they don't play each other very often, and any match-up between the two feels like a big deal.  UCLA hadn't looked all that great when I saw them play Gonzaga (an 87-74 win for the Zags), but you know they've got talent and you never know what's going to happen when two famous programs meet.

I was made more nervous by the fact that my local CBS station would not be carrying the game, on the grounds that folks in the greater D.C. area would rather watch the Redskins host the Eagles.  But your devoted blogger can also get WJZ -- Channel 13 out of Baltimore -- and the folks in Charm City have never had much interest in the Skins.  So I was ready to watch the game.

As these narratives have probably made clear by now, I have a nervous, anxious sort of fan, who always expects the worst.  But almost as soon as this game began, I had a feeling the Cats were in for a big day.  Almost every team that plays UK treats the game like a Holy War, and I'm used to seeing teams contest every possession as if their lives were at stake.  But UCLA started off as if they were just playing a typical game against Washington State or maybe Cal.  They took a lot of contested jump shots, they didn't always get back on defense, and they weren't obsessed with avoiding turnovers.  They didn't pack their defense into an impregnable zone, or hold the ball deep into the shot clock.  They were just a bunch of talented players trying to play a normal basketball game.

And the Cats just destroyed them.  At one point, UK led 24-0, which is a score I'm pretty certain I have never seen in forty years of watching college basketball.  After 10 minutes, it was 26-2, and UCLA had used more time outs (3), then it had scored points.  UCLA Coach Steve Alford explained after the game that what makes UK's defense so strong is that because the Cats have so many tall, athletic players, they can respond to screens by simply switching defenders -- and still not face a mismatch.  That may be the case, but UCLA also seemed completely unprepared for the level of defensive intensity that the Cats brought.  Plus the Cats were making three-pointers -- Devin Booker made 5 of 6 from beyond the arc, and the team as a whole went 12 of 26.  UK will be very difficult to beat when it makes three's.

The result was possibly the most impressive half of basketball I've ever seen from UK.  After 20 minutes, UK led 41 to 7.  That's right -- 41 to 7.  According to CBS, it was the lowest number of points UCLA had ever scored in a basketball half.

In the second half, UCLA finally made some shots, but the Cats actually grew their enormous lead.  With only 2:21 to go, the Cats were up 83-39, but they blew their chance for a 40-point win by letting the Bruins score the last five points of the game.

Of course, this victory was quickly overshadowed by the hype for tomorrow's game in Louisville between the undefeated Cats and the undefeated Cards.  But before we all concentrate on that game, consider what UK has already done:

11/18/14:  Kentucky 72 - 40 Kansas (Indianapolis)
12/13/14:  Kentucky 84 - 70 N. Carolina
12/20/14:  Kentucky 83 - 44 UCLA (Chicago)

That's three huge wins over three of the greatest programs in the history of college basketball -- and two of those games were on neutral courts.  You just don't see any team do that very often.  And now, we get to see how they deal with Louisville.

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