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UCLA Basketball News Roundup: Yeah Baby! 3-2 vs. Kentucky

UCLA ends its series with Kentucky 3 wins to 2 losses with an upset win over #7 Kentucky in New Orleans

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at UCLA
Kris Wilkes rose above Kentucky
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Kris Wilkes tied his career high of 20 points in the UCLA Bruins’ 83-75 win over the Kentucky Wildcats so he gets to lead off the news roundup:

Kris Wilkes skipped off the court, a wide smile splitting his face. The UCLA freshman forward could not contain his excitement after the most momentous victory of his college career.

“Yeah, baby!” Wilkes shouted. “Yeah, baby!”

Wilkes game was significant as he broke out of a slump.

The answers to Kris Wilkes‘ recent struggles would be in the film, head coach Steve Alford preached. So the coach and the freshman huddled together aboard an airplane bound for New Orleans searching for ways to shake Wilkes from his funk.

After scoring in single-digits for three of the past four games, Wilkes tied a career-high with 20 points to help UCLA upset No. 7 Kentucky 83-75 on Saturday.

This was not just the “Kris Wilkes Show” but really a balanced team effort:

But Jaylen Hands' layup and Welsh's 3 ignited what grew into a 21-2 Bruins run, putting UCLA ahead 50-39 early in the second half. Welsh and Ali each hit two 3s during the pivotal surge. . . .

But a poised Welsh again helped spark a UCLA spurt with a steady jump shot as the crowd urged on Kentucky's defense, and the Bruins built their lead back to 12 on Holiday's free throws before Kentucky made one last charge that came up short.

UCLA: Hands, who scored 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, and Prince Ali, who had 12 points on 4-of-7 from the field, gave the Bruins the balanced, efficient scoring they needed to hold off an explosive but inconsistent Kentucky squad.

While this was a team effort, Aaron Holiday was the key.

Holiday scored eight of the Bruins' final 12 points over the game's last 2:30. The Bruins' floor general hit a layup with 33 seconds left to push UCLA's margin to 79-73 before sinking two free throws with 20 seconds to go, pushing the Bruins' cushion to 81-73.

"He's unbelievable," Alford said of Holiday. "I've said all along that he's like a pit bull who is just going to come at you. I've loved coaching him. These have been three great years here."

Holiday had on his mind the choke at the end of the Michigan game.

Yeah, we showed great poise. At the end of the game, it was maybe two minutes left and all I kept saying was that we’ve got 30 seconds. We’ve just got to take care of the ball and run that shot clock all the way down, and we’ll be in good shape. So, that’s what we did. Obviously that Michigan game didn’t end like we’d wanted it to. [In that game] I was the main reason, and I had seven turnovers tonight, too. But I’m just glad that we got the win.”

There was a big reason why Holiday played better.

But there were also continual signs of growth for UCLA. A visibly winded Holiday asked Alford to give him some rest for what the coach said was the first time in his career. Holiday returned with 2:56 left after a breather that lasted 76 seconds on the game clock to score six of his 20 points while avoiding turnovers.

As I documented, Holiday was exhausted and terrible at the end of the Michigan game. This time, he was rested and clutch. As such, the upperclassman earns the last word on what this means:

After spending much of the first two months of the season as the sport's center of attention -- mostly because of the fallout from a shoplifting incident in Chinaand the subsequent LaVar Ball-charged airtime it received -- the Bruins closed out their nonconference slate with an impressive 83-75 win over No. 7 Kentucky on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic that is likely to change the conversation surrounding the team. . . .

The Bruins (9-3) went toe-to-toe with one of the most talented teams in the country on a neutral court and won.

"It means a lot," Holiday said. "First off, it shows that we can win even though we're young. [Secondly], it shows that we're actually good. I'm tired of people saying that we're not good just because we have mishaps at the end or whatever it is. It just shows our team chemistry and how good we are right now at a young age."

Nice early Christmas present. Go Bruins!