WESTWOOD, Calif. — UCLA has exacted its revenge and jump-started its season all in one fell swoop.
A year after being humiliated in Rupp Arena against No. 1 Kentucky — failing to get into even double-digits by halftime — the Bruins defeated the Wildcats in Pauley Pavilion 87-77 on Thursday. And just like the game last season, it was a wire-to-wire affair.
The Bruins jumped all over John Calipari’s team from the tip, never looking like the underdog at any point. They were the aggressors, pushing the action to the Wildcats, who never responded with energy. Every time it seemed like the Wildcats had a bit of momentum, it just never sustained. The right shot didn’t fall at the right time. The defense didn’t come up with the clutch stop.
Then halfway through the second half, Prince Ali flew.
From that moment on, it just never quite seemed like Kentucky would mount a challenge.
Ali’s contributions off the bench helped, but Thomas Welsh was the true bright spot in this game. He continually knocked down 15-footers against Kentucky big men in space and then pushed potential top-five pick Skal Labissiere all over the floor. Welsh ended up with 21 points and 11 rebounds, the first such game of his career. Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton added 15 each, and freshman Aaron Holiday chipped in with 10. It was a nearly perfect offensive performance that saw them put up 1.23 points per possession.
Kentucky big man Marcus Lee’s presence was sorely missed in this one, as he was forced out of the game early with a head injury. Tyler Ulis was also seemingly limited by the elbow injury that held him out of their previous game against Illinois State. Freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe was really the only player to push the action for the entire game, finishing with 20 points.
Basically, every single thing that ailed the Bruins coming into this game — backcourt turnovers and crippling defensive inefficiency chief among them — didn’t pop up. UCLA played a nearly flawless game, and stunned the No. 1 team in the country.