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Kentucky Basketball Drops UCLA Bruins: Final Score, Recap and Topics

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On Saturday, the #13 Kentucky Wildcats traveled to Madison Square Garden to play the #16 UCLA Bruins in the annual CBS Sports Classic. The contest offered a shot at redemption for the Wildcats as they faced their first ranked opponent since a demoralizing loss to Gonzaga in November.

In the first five minutes, both teams exchanged baskets and it looked pretty balanced. Cason Wallace got off to another fast start, scoring 5 points in the first 90 seconds for the Wildcats.

However, Kentucky was forced into difficult shooting for much of the half and played unusual defense as the Bruins built a 13-point lead with more than six minutes to go in the half. Thanks to the energy of Chris Livingston and Lance Ware, Kentucky managed to cut the lead to eight at halftime, 35-27.

Their energy earned them the right to start the second half. Ware responded immediately as he scrambled for offensive plate and shot for a Sahvir Wheeler three, which was followed by three consecutive baskets by Chris Livingston to tie the game at 38.

UCLA quickly responded to go up 46-40, but the Wildcats continued to struggle to keep the lead within reach. In the end, the Wildcats made too many mistakes to beat a legitimate top 25 team, falling by a final score of 63-53.

Next up, Kentucky goes home next Wednesday to host Florida A&M.

Now, here are three things to know about the game.

Slow Start, Offensive Misfortunes Spell Doom

Entering the competition, KenPom placed UCLA in the top 10 in offensive efficiency and Kentucky in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. However, in the battle of strengths, UCLA’s offense reigned supreme in the first 20 minutes.

In the first half alone, the Bruins hit just five shots of three and that’s because they weren’t forced to charge them. The Wildcat defense allowed UCLA to shoot 50 percent from the field and get almost anything it wanted.

When the defense doesn’t measure up, the offense needs to step up, and that was the real problem for the Wildcats. 53 points in a regulation game against anyone sucks.

In the game, they shot poorly by nearly every metric, shooting under 35% from the field for the game while having more turnovers (18) than assists (14).

This crime is a big problem. And until it’s resolved, Kentucky will continue to lose to quality opponents.

Who goes up?

In the first half, Kentucky only had three players making more than one field goal: Oscar Tshiebwe, Cason Wallace and Sahvir Wheeler. To add insult to injury, the rest of the team were less than lackluster, taking a combined 3/15 from the field. This put the Wildcats in an early hole.

Oscar Tshiebwe had a poor game by his standards, shooting eight points on 4/12 shooting but grabbing 16 rebounds.

Other than that, Sahivr Wheeler had 11 points and Chris Livingston had 14, but Jacob Toppin, Cason Wallace and Antonio Reeves combined for 18 points on 6/35 shooting.

Damn it.

How about Lance? And Livingstone?

While the Wildcats didn’t get much help outside of Tshiebwe-Wallace-Wheeler, two players stood out in Chris Livingston and Lance Ware, giving the Wildcats a fighting chance.

For weeks, John Calipari has been quoted as needing to play more against Livingston. On Saturday night, one of the biggest stages in basketball, Livingston defended more playing time. In his season-best game, Livingston scored 14 points on 5/9 shooting.

As for Lance Ware, he was another player who received inconsistent playing time and earned a roster role in his three seasons.

That role? A high-energy player off the bench, which he provided again on Saturday.

Registering just two points and five rebounds, Ware’s value beyond box scoring was on display, leading the team in plus/minus at +8. Ultimately, that helped Kentucky make this a game when all hope seemed lost.

At this point, the Wildcats have lost all three of their non-conference ranked matchups and will start an even more challenging SEC schedule later this month.

Personally, I don’t like being negative. However, at this point it’s fair to question when or even if this team will start to click.

Let’s discuss!