UCLA -1 vs. Kentucky O/U 165.5Recommendation: Under
When Kentucky and UCLA met in non-conference play back in December, the game was an instant classic; a 97-92 Bruins victory in a high octane shootout. Both teams played fast – a frenetic tempo from a pair of teams that were struggling mightily on defense at the time. And both teams shot the ball well, combining for 47% shooting from the floor, including 18 made three-pointers. No surprise, then, that the rematch is the single highest totaled game in the NCAA Tournament so far.
But there’s little reason to expect the high stakes rematch to be played in similar fashion. That was then. This is now.
John Calipari spent the back half of the season coaching up the Kentucky defense. It’s worked! The lengthy, athletic Wildcats are wreaking havoc on the defensive end of the court in recent weeks. Only one of their last nine opponents has scored more than 70 points against them, with Kentucky holding foes under 40% from the floor during that span. No surprise, then, that the Wildcats are 8-1 to the Under in those last nine ballgames, including a snail’s pace Round of 32 game against Wichita State. And this is the highest total – by far – that Kentucky has seen during this span.
UCLA’s offense is similar to that of the Golden State Warriors in one key regard – it’s speed of ball movement. When teams face UCLA for the first time, they’re often overwhelmed, like Kentucky was in the first meeting. The rematch, however, isn’t as much of a basketball culture shock, because they’ve seen it before. That’s how teams like USC and Arizona slowed UCLA down in rematch situations down the stretch of the PAC-12 campaign. And, as Kentucky already knows that getting into a track meet with the Bruins is a losing proposition. Expect a very different pace mentality from the Wildcats this time around!
Last, but not least, UCLA’s defense has improved by leaps and bounds from where they were a few months ago. This WAS a bad defensive team for the better part of the first three months of the season. But in PAC-12 play, the Bruins were actually #2 in the entire conference in two point shooting percentage allowed. The Bruins don’t force many turnovers, leading to easy fast break buckets on the other end. But they’ve been fundamentally sound for the better part of the last two months now and Kentucky is not a jack threes type of team, averaging fewer than seven makes per game. Expect this rematch to be a much lower scoring affair than the first meeting, staying under the total with room to spare.
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