UCLA breaks Wildcats’ 7-game streak

Published 1:15 pm Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Kentucky will have six days to recover and prepare for rival Louisville following an 83-75 loss to unranked UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic Saturday in New Orleans.

The Bruins, who have won three of the past five meetings between the two storied programs, ended the Wildcats’ seven-game winning streak, handing Kentucky its first loss since the Wildcats suffered a 65-61 setback to Kansas nearly a month ago in the State Farm Champions Classic in Chicago.

In the first game of a doubleheader at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, North Carolina rolled to an 86-72 victory over Ohio State.

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UCLA (9-3) broke a 39-39 deadlock with a 11-0 run to open the second half and led 50-39 with 17 minutes remaining. Kentucky kept the score within single digits for most of the second half, but never led during the final half.

“I think sometimes, as much as you hate to say it, you have to get knocked in the mouth and lose,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “It’s got to hurt every player and then they start figure it out, like, I’m not going to be able to play the way I want to play. We tried to make the hardest play when we were in the guts of the game. They are so much better than they were a month ago, but today we played a team that wanted the game worst than we wanted it and this usually what happens. … we deserved to lose (the game).”

The Bruins connected on 12 3-pointers, paced by Kris Wilkes, who knocked down three shots from long range. Wilkes and teammate Aaron Holiday led all scorers with 20 points as five different UCLA players hit a shot from long range.

Bruins coach Steve Alford said his game plan was simple, resulting in his team’s precise shooting from long range.

“We wanted to drive and kick (it out) and not drive and try to finish (at the rim),” Alford said.

Hamidou Diallo paced Kentucky with 18 points. Wenyen Gabriel came off the bench and followed Diallo with 16 points. Kevin Knox rounded out three players in double figures with 15 points.

Kentucky led by eight at 34-26 at the four-minute mark of the first half, but the Bruins made their last four field goals of the opening frame and tied the score at 39-39 at the break. UCLA closed out the first half with a 10-2 run and continued its surge in the second half.

“I loved our start to the second half,” Alford said.

Diallo paced Kentucky’s offense with 12 points in the first half, while Wenyen Gabriel came off the bench and added seven points in nine minutes.

“I was just playing my game offensively,” Gabriel said. “My teammates found me and I had the confidence to knock them down. Defensively I was trying to stay engaged and I was trying to bring more energy to the game.”

The Wildcats shot just 39 percent in the first half and made just two 3-pointers on 10 attempts.

UCLA kept pace with six shots from long range and got 13 points from Wilkes and 10 from Holiday. Both players made two 3-pointers each to lead the Bruins’ offensive attack.

Kentucky committed 14 turnovers, while the Bruins collected 20 second-chance points and outrebounded the Wildcats 37-36.

Although his team made a comeback, Calipari was disappointed in his team’s lack of competitive spirit down the stretch.

“As a coach, all I’m thinking about in a game like this, how do I keep this thing close and see if we have a will to win (when) we cut it close?” Calipari said. “We did and we didn’t have (the will to win). That’s a little disappointing. We had a chance to grab the game (and) we didn’t. They are freshmen, they don’t know (how to win) yet.”

Classic returns to Chicago

The fifth CBS Sports Classic, featuring Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio State and UCLA will be held on Dec. 22 at the United Center in Chicago next season.

Kentucky will take on North Carolina, while UCLA will play Ohio State. It will mark the second time the event has been played in Chicago.

Gametracker: Louisville at Kentucky, 1 p.m., Friday. TV/Radio: CBS (Channel 27), 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.