Prior to the Sweet 16 meeting between the #2 and #3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament South Region, Kentucky and UCLA, all the chatter surrounded the Bruins' fab freshman, Lonzo Ball. It was Ball, the pundits said, who would dominate the back court and Ball who would be the top pick in the NBA draft. Barely a word was spoken about Kentucky's freshman guards, Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox.
Once the game was underway, however, there was no mistaking who was handling the ball the pressure better. Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox seemed to be in complete control, the ball in his hands nearly every possession, and, more often than not, he was taking it to Ball and the Bruins, scoring at every opportunity.
By the time the final buzzer sounded and the Wildcats had secured their spot in the Elite Eight with an 86-75 tour de Fox, the baby-face, 6'3" freshman from Houston, Texas, had rung up a career-high 39 points, the most ever scored by a freshman in the NCAA tournament.
Fox completely outplayed and out-shined Ball, who may have been disserviced by the comments from his father, LeVar, who unabashedly lavished praise upon his son to anyone within earshot prior to the game. Ball was pretty much an afterthought, finishing with just 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting to go with eight assists. After the game, Ball confirmed that he would go pro, conceding that he had just played his final game for the Bruins.
Fox's evening was nothing short of sensational, thus far the finest individual performance of the entire tournament. In 36 minutes, he was 13-for-20 from the field, missing his only three-point attempt, and 13-for-15 from the foul line. When he wasn't dancing through the UCLA defense and whirling to the goal, he managed to dish four assists, grasp three rebounds and contribute a pair of pilfers on defense.
Fox's running mate, Monk, also played well, scoring 21 points on 8-for-17 shooting with four solid three-pointers. The first half was a see-saw battle, with Kentucky eventually taking a 36-33 lead into the ocker rooms. In the second 20 minutes, Fox and Monk took charge, but UCLA would not relent. When Bryce Alford hit a three at 14:43, The Wildcats led by one point, 50-49, but a 10-2 spurt by Kentucky over the next three minutes gave them a 60-51 lead that they would eventually expand to as many as 14 points when Fox made a layup with 1:58 remaining for a 79-65 advantage.
The Wildcats are set for a rematch with the region's #1 seed, North Carolina, on Sunday at approximated 5:05 pm ET. The two teams matched up back on December 17 in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas, with Kentucky coming away with a 47-point effort from Malik Monk and a 103-100 victory. Their game Sunday will be the only #1 vs. #2 seeds of the tournament.
North Carolina advanced with a workmanlike, 92-80 win over #4 Butler.
In the East Regional semi-finals, #7 South Carolina dominated #3 Baylor, 70-50, and #4 Florida eventually dismissed a resolute Wisconsin squad, 84-83 in overtime.
On Saturday, #11 Xavier hooks up with #1 Gonzaga in the West Regional final at 6:09 pm ET prior to the Midwest Regional final between #1 Kansas and #3 Oregon at 8:49 pm ET. Both games will be televised by TBS.
Sunday's Kentucky-North Carolina match-up (5:05 pm ET) will be preceded by the East Regional final of #4 Florida vs. #7 South Carolina in an all-SEC clash. Sunday's games are to be broadcast by CBS, which also has exclusive rights to this year's Final Four games next weekend.
NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Friday (3/24) Games
|Conference (# of teams)||Record||Winners (# of Wins)|
|ACC (9)||8-8||Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (3)|
|Big East (7)||6-6||Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (3)|
|Big Ten (7)||8-7||Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)|
|Big 12 (6)||9-5||Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (3), Baylor (2)|
|SEC (5)||10-2||Florida (3), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (3), South Carolina (3)|
|PAC 12 (4)||9-3||USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (3), UCLA (2)|
|Atlantic 10 (3)||1-3||Rhode Island (1)|
|American (2)||1-2||Cincinnati (1)|
|West Coast (2)||4-1||Gonzaga (3), St. Mary's (1)|
|All Others (23)||(4-23)||Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)|