March 21, 1998 in Sports

Wildcats Pounce On Bruins Kentucky Eliminates Ucla Down South Ncaa Tournament

Jon Wilner Los Angeles Daily News
 

They were the under-andout team of this South Regional Sweet 16, the undersized, outmanned underdog that is now out of the NCAA Tournament.

Not even the Wizard himself believed the Baron Davisless UCLA Bruins could survive Kentucky and prolong their chaotic, whacky season another 48 hours.

“(Davis’ injury) hurts UCLA’s chances tremendously,” John Wooden said in an Associated Press report earlier this week. “I would say UCLA is in over their heads.”

There will be no magic ending, no fairy-tale finish to the UCLA seniors’ storied careers. Instead, the season ended as it began, with the tiny, overmatched Bruins helpless against a bigger and better foe, as Kentucky applied a 94-68 pasting Friday night before 40,589 at Tropicana Field.

The loss was not for lack of effort. The Bruins (24-9) played harder than they have all season. But without Jelani McCoy and Davis, who was in uniform and leading cheers on the bench, they were powerless against Kentucky’s size, talent and bottomless depth.

The Wildcats paid no heed to freshmen Earl Watson and Travis Reed and concentrated their defensive energy on slowing the seniors, Toby Bailey, Kris Johnson and J.R. Henderson.

In the decisive first half, Bailey was 0 of 7 from the field and Henderson 2 of 9, with four turnovers. The Bruins trailed by 17 at halftime, rallied briefly in the second half, then wilted.

“I really feel (Kentucky is) the hottest team in the tournament,” UCLA coach Steve Lavin said. “I’m not doing a Lou Holtz (inflating the opponent). They came into the tournament hitting on all cylinders.”

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith devised a near-perfect game plan. The Wildcats applied full-court pressure to tire the roster-thin Bruins, who, without Davis, had few ballhandlers to combat the harassment. The Wildcats came in waves, as Smith rotated 11 players against UCLA’s six.

“There isn’t one person that stands out,” Bailey said. “They play so well together. They play team ball. It’s like they have two starting fives they throw at you.”

More, the Wildcats denied Bailey and Johnson open 3-pointers and forced them to penetrate. Once in the lane, they met the hulking centers, Nazr Mohammed and Jamaal Magloire, who swatted shots like older brothers in a backyard two-on-two combining for eight blocks in the first half and 14 in the game.

It was here, in the half-court offense, where the Bruins sorely missed Davis. He is their top one-on-one player and would have had the best chance of slashing through the defense to create scoring opportunities.

Finally, Kentucky collapsed on Henderson, forcing him to take off-balance turnarounds and lurching jumpers. When he became frustrated and went to the dribble, shot blockers were waiting.

The opening sequence established the tone, as Mohammed blocked two Henderson shots. Although Henderson eventually scored a layup, the blocks weighed on UCLA’s psyche. The Bruins spent the rest of the half hesitating before every shot, pass and dribble. The result: 14 first-half turnovers.

The Wildcats passed with speed and precision, finding open 3-point shooters or dumping the ball underneath to Mohammed. The Bruins simply could not rotate fast enough, as if they were playing four-against-five.

Scott Padgett’s 3-pointer from the right wing gave Kentucky a 7-2 lead, and after Reed missed a layup Allen Edwards jetted by Johnson for a rousing dunk. Not 3 minutes had elapsed, and the Bruins were desperate.

Kentucky’s lead expanded to 20-5 when UCLA finally settled. Johnson drained two 3-pointers to cut the deficit to 28-21. For a minute, it seemed the Bruins had regrouped.

Their respite lasted only seconds, as Kentucky was quickly back at it. Mohammed swatted Rico Hines, and a Johnson turnover led to Wayne Turner’s layup and a 36-21 Wildcats lead.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: NCAA GLANCE Friday’s games

South semifinals Duke 80, Syracuse 67 Kentucky 94, UCLA 68 Midwest semifinals Stanford 67, Purdue 59 Rhode Is. 74, Valpo 68

Today’s games

West final Arizona (30-4) vs. Utah (28-3) TV: 12:30 on CBS East final North Carolina (33-3) vs. Connecticut (32-4) TV: 2:50 on CBS

This sidebar appeared with the story: NCAA GLANCE Friday’s games

South semifinals Duke 80, Syracuse 67 Kentucky 94, UCLA 68 Midwest semifinals Stanford 67, Purdue 59 Rhode Is. 74, Valpo 68

Today’s games

West final Arizona (30-4) vs. Utah (28-3) TV: 12:30 on CBS East final North Carolina (33-3) vs. Connecticut (32-4) TV: 2:50 on CBS


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