No. 7 Kentucky and its talented freshmen head to New Orleans to face UCLA in a battle of college basketball blue bloods. The Wildcats are winning while coach John Calipari tries to find the right mix. The Bruins are trying to stay above water with two players suspended and another who left the team.
, Kentucky head coach John Calipari directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
19 of December 2017 07:37:09
Kentucky and UCLA are among the bluest of college basketball's blue bloods, combining for 19 national titles.
The Bruins are the all-time leader, thanks in large part to a stretch of nine titles in 10 years under coach John Wooden. UCLA won its last title in 1995.
Kentucky has eight titles, four of those under Adolph Rupp and most recently under John Calipari in 2012.
The two powerhouse programs have the marquee game this week in the AP Top 25 when they meet Saturday in New Orleans.
Both the seventh-ranked Wildcats and Bruins are still trying to find an identity a month into the season.
Kentucky (9-1) again is loaded with future pros, and Calipari is still trying to find the right mix with the youngest team he's had in Lexington.
It hasn't stopped the Wildcats from winning games.
Kentucky's only loss was by four to Kansas in Chicago early in the season, and a string of blowouts dot their schedule.
The Wildcats beat Virginia Tech 93-86 on Saturday.
"A bunch of good kids and they're trying to please me and the staff," Calipari said. "What else can I ask for? And they're smart. They're pretty good."
UCLA has struggled since losing Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf and Bryce Alford from last year's team.
The Bruins got the season off to an ugly start in China, where LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were accused of shoplifting and suspended. Ball left the school to play professionally overseas, while Riley and Hill missed their 10th straight game in a loss to No. 25 Cincinnati on Saturday.
"It's about understanding who we are," coach Steve Alford said. "You went from one day having 11 in your rotation to having eight. That doesn't happen a lot in college basketball. I just can't thank them enough."
This week in the Top 25 is a rare one with no ranked teams playing each other, with many of the opponents smaller schools like Savannah State, SC Upstate, Cleveland State and Tennessee State.
HEELS AND BUCKEYES
The opening game in New Orleans between No. 5 North Carolina and Ohio State could be one of the best of the week.
North Carolina has bounced back from an ugly loss to then-No. 4 Michigan State at the PK80 Invitational with five straight wins. The Tar Heels held off No. 20 Tennessee on Sunday and host Wofford on Wednesday.
Ohio State (9-3) had a stretch of three losses in four games, to Gonzaga, Butler and Clemson. The Buckeyes have played well since, winning at Wisconsin and rallying from a 20-point deficit to beat rival Michigan during a four-game win streak.
Ohio State rolled over Appalachian State on Saturday and hosts The Citadel on Tuesday.
KANSAS IN NORCAL
No. 14 Kansas faces an interesting matchup in its final game before trying to win a 13th straight Big 12 title, playing Stanford on Thursday in Sacramento, California.
The Cardinal are 6-6 and have some ugly losses, but also have Reid Travis, one of the best players out West.
A 6-foot-8 junior, he leads Stanford with 22.2 points per game while shooting 53 percent and grabs 7.3 rebounds.
The Jayhawks will have to find a way to contain him to not end the nonconference season with a loss.
ARIZONA HOSTS UCON
A game between Arizona and UConn would seem like one of the best of the week.
One problem heading into Thursday's matchup: The Huskies have been inconsistent.
UConn is 7-3 but has struggled against bigger schools. The Huskies were blown out by No. 2 Michigan State and Arkansas, with losses to Syracuse and Providence also on their resume. They did beat Oregon, but the Ducks have been up and down so far after reaching the Final Four last season.
Arizona (9-3), on the other hand, is on a roll. The Wildcats have bounced back from a dismal trip to the Bahamas and won six straight, including an 83-53 rout of North Dakota State on Monday. They also have Deandre Ayton, an athletic 7-foot-1 freshman who is a nightmare matchup.
A win at McKale Center could do wonders for the Huskies.
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