mar 20, 2017 | THUC NHI NGUYEN | THE L.A. daily newS | ARTICLE LINK
Bryce Alford is realistic when he assesses UCLA’s defensive prowess. He knows the Bruins aren’t in the business of holding teams to the low 60s or 50s, he said this past week as they prepared for the NCAA Tournament. What they are in the business of, however, is winning.
“When we need stops,” the senior said, “we get ‘em.”
UCLA (31-4) will need plenty more this Friday against second-seeded Kentucky in the South Regional semifinals in Memphis at 6:40 p.m. PT. It’s defensive success that breeds offensive firepower for the Bruins, who are trying to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2008.
“When we get stops we’re a whole different type of offensive team,” Coach Steve Alford said after UCLA’s second-round win over Cincinnati on Sunday. “It takes us to another level.”
Steve Alford credited UCLA’s offensive resurgence in the second half against the Bearcats to the team’s defense.
After slogging through a first-half battle and scoring a season-low 30 points, the Bruins got stops on three of their first four defensive possessions of the second half. They turned a three-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead in less than three minutes.
In the second half, the Bruins held Cincinnati to a single-shot possession 12 times. They converted those stops into points on the next possession 11 times.
“We had to change, and we did,” guard Aaron Holiday said of the second half. “It was just a matter of getting our defense together. We just tried to get them out of their game.”
After shooting 50 percent from the field in the first half, the Bearcats withered to 41.2 percent in the second. Cincinnati chucked up 14 3-point shots in the second half, hitting only three, compared to its 5-for-6 shooting from long range in the first half. With UCLA’s offensive engine revving, the Bearcats “panicked and tried to match” UCLA’s strength, Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said.
“They’re probably the best offensive team to play college basketball in a long, long time,” Cronin said.
UCLA’s next opponent is another talented offensive team as Kentucky (31-5) ranks ninth in the country in scoring with 85.2 points per game. The Wildcats can also win games with their defense, as they showed in the second round against Wichita State.
Kentucky won an ugly 65-62 slugfest against the Shockers on Sunday, punctuating the victory with two stops in the final 40 seconds.
In December, the Bruins battered Kentucky’s defense. They hung 97 points on the then-No. 1 Wildcats in Rupp Arena, the most ever for an opponent under Coach John Calipari.
Nearly an entire season separates the two teams from their last marquee meeting. Kentucky went on to steamroll the SEC, winning both the regular season and tournament crowns. UCLA faltered in a top-heavy Pac-12, finishing third in its conference, but avenging all three of its regular-season conference losses. On Friday, their paths cross again.
“It’s a very, very good basketball team,” Steve Alford said of Kentucky. “I think they’re better now in March than they were when we played them in December, and I think we’re better than what we were in December as well. Makes for a great matchup.”
NCAA Tournament South Regional, Sweet 16
No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 2 Kentucky
Time: 6:40 p.m
Where: FedExForum, Memphis