It has been a minute since the No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats last hit the hardwood. After a full week with no games, the Wildcats get their first of two more non-conference contests before conference play begins. Saturday night sees a clash between two of college basketball’s true blue bloods as Kentucky faces UCLA in New Orleans.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Stop Thomas Welsh
The Wildcats are known in their 2017-18 incarnation for the size, length, and strength inside. This is a tricky combination for opposing teams to go up against as generally, Kentucky has the size advantage in the paint, and everywhere else on the court for that matter.
This is not so true with the Bruins coming to town.
Overall Kentucky may be the bigger team, but in Thomas Welsh, the Bruins have a legit seven-footer that is going to cause Kentucky issues. It is not just his size that will present problems, but also the experience of having been a college basketball player for approximately 27 years. Welsh is averaging over a double-double this season, picking up 10.6 rebounds and 13.2 points per game, both career-high numbers.
Take advantage of UCLA’s disarray
This is not exactly a vintage UCLA squad. The Bruins have struggled to replace the scoring and leadership that Lonzo Ball, T.J, Leaf and Bryce Alford brought them last season. While the least heralded of the three, it was Alford that bought a presence and control to the team that the 2017-18 version of this team has yet to find.
None of this was helped by the preseason debacle in China. LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill were all supposed to be key members of Steve Alford’s squad this winter. After being accused of shoplifting and being suspended from the team, Ball left while Riley and Hill have yet to play this season. The result is that this team is shorthanded and that they are missing some scoring threats that would have made a difference in losses.
Keep the pressure high
It was interesting timing that John Calipari revealed his 2-2-1 full-court press against Virginia Tech. It is a defense system that would seem to suit Kentucky perfectly, allowing players to use their length and athleticism to speed up the opposition and force them into mistakes.
Kentucky is deep, while UCLA is not. The Bruins basically play eight players and the result is that they tire late in games. The Bruins were dominating South Dakota, leading 78-54 in the second half when the wheels fell off. The Coyotes mounted a furious comeback, getting to within two points at 84-82 with 2.3 seconds left on the clock. The Bruins snuck the win, but the cracks are plain to see.
If Calipari can mix the press with his other defenses then the eight Bruins players that see extended time will be done with 10 minutes left in the game.