Kentucky takes out UCLA
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The rematch was not a repeat.
Shackling UCLA's devastating transition game Friday night, second-seeded Kentucky set up a blueblood South Regional championship game with an 86-75 victory in front of a pro-Wildcats audience at FedEx Forum.
De'Aaron Fox scored a career-high 39 points for Kentucky (32-5), which will play top-seeded North Carolina on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four next weekend in Glendale, Ariz. Malik Monk added 21 points and reserve Dominique Hawkins scored 11 points.
But the key was a defense that was shredded for 97 points in December when the Bruins posted a five-point win at Rupp Arena to emerge as a championship contender. Third-seeded UCLA (31-5) couldn't come close to matching that in the sequel despite shooting 52.7 percent from the field.
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T.J. Leaf and Isaac Hamilton paced the Bruins with 17 points each and Bryce Alford added 13, but star freshman Lonzo Ball couldn't find the range, going just 4 of 10 from the floor and ending the night with 10 points. UCLA finished 15 points below its season average, turning the ball over 13 times after committing only nine in its first two NCAA Tournament games.
The Wildcats took the lead for good late in the first half on a 3-pointer by Isaiah Briscoe, carrying a 36-33 edge to the break on the strength of 15 points from Fox.
Kentucky gradually pulled away in the second half, even though the Bruins made 17 of 27 shots from the field. The Wildcats did all the little things required to win big games, slowing the tempo at times and staying active with their perimeter defense.
Two free throws by Fox with 5:58 remaining gave Kentucky a 69-58 lead, a death sentence of sorts for UCLA. Under coach John Calipari, the Wildcats were 213-4 when leading by 10 points at any time in a game before Friday night.
That became 214-4 as the Bruins, who have at times displayed shortcomings on defense, simply couldn't stay between Fox and the bucket. The 6-foot-4 freshman went 13 of 20 from the floor and 13 of 15 at the foul line.
NOTES: Kentucky's first 3-pointer extended its NCAA-record streak of making at least one in 1,012 consecutive games. ... UCLA entered the game leading Division I in five offensive categories, including assists, as it averaged a whopping 21.6 per game. ... Bruins C Thomas Welsh played just 18 minutes before fouling out with 5:58 remaining, finishing with nine points and seven rebounds.