DE'AARON FOX: We lost two games in conference play, and everyone wants to say other conferences were better or our conference isn't as strong.
Shackling UCLA's devastating transition game Friday night, second-seeded Kentucky set up a blueblood South Regional championship game with an 86-75 victory in front of a pro-Wildcats audience at FedEx Forum.
The marquee matchup will see second-seeded Kentucky face third-seeded UCLA in the South Region in Memphis.
The Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament rolled on Friday, with four more teams punching their tickets to the Elite Eight.
"I am so proud of him", United Kingdom coach John Calipari said.
This was the fourth time these powerhouses have met in the past three seasons, and UCLA upset then-No. UCLA won the teams' first meeting on December 3, 97-92.
"It didn't matter if it was Aaron Holiday (the defender who gets screened by Bam up above) or Lonzo Ball himself, UCLA couldn't defend the pick-and-roll at all on Friday night and when you have a 6'10", 260-pound screener, it makes life hard for big men when their guards are getting wiped out of plays. From there, the celebration was on in FedExForum for a crowd unsurprisingly dominated by Kentucky fans.
Fox might not be the pure passer that Ball is, but healthy averages of 16.1 points and 4.6 assists suit Kentucky just fine.
Ball, the more celebrated point guard all season, finished with 10 points, eight assists and four turnovers. Ball handed out eight assists but also had four turnovers.
Freshman TJ Leaf and Isaac Hamilton each had 17 points for UCLA. The two freshman guards accounted for 21 of the Wildcats' first 24 points in the second half.
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As he has throughout the tournament, Calipari tightened his bench, essential relying on his starters - Fox, Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe, Malik Monk and Derek Willis - plus Dominique Hawkins. He hit four of his first five shots, including a pair of 3s, within the first five minutes of the second.
Monk, the Southeastern Conference player of the year had only seven points in the first half. With the game taking place in Tennessee, which shares a border with Kentucky, the Bruins can again expect a hostile environment of Friday night. The last lead change came on two free throws by Thornwell with 2:24 left that made it 65-63.
Wisconsin's Zak Showalter forced overtime with a leaning 3-pointer off one leg with 2.1 seconds left in regulation as the Badgers wiped out a 12-point deficit in the last 4:15.
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Q. It looked like you guys might have three SEC teams in the Elite 8? Luke Maye is a rebound shy of a double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Joel Berry II has 10 points. The Tar Heels led 52-36 at the half and never had their lead under double digits the rest of the way.
Andrew Chrabascz led the fourth-seeded Bulldogs (25-9) with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Kelan Martin finished with 16 points for Butler, which struggled shooting early and did not recover. The Tar Heels connected on 54.4 percent of their shots, while Butler was at 43.5 percent. North Carolina took care of Butler to secure their spot against Kentucky earlier Friday.
Kentucky gradually pulled away in the second half, even though the Bruins made 17 of 27 shots from the field.
DJ Dozier and Chris Silva had 12 points each and Duane Notice added 11 for the Gamecocks.
"If they play like they did the second half, they can't" be stopped, said Purdue coach Matt Painter, after the Boilermakers were outscored 51-26 over the final 20 minutes of a 98-66 loss to the Jayhawks on Thursday. "He didn't miss a whole lot of shots tonight (13 for 20)".