LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Wildcats are the first team ever to start 36-0, and the stakes just keep getting higher now that they leave the Bluegrass State for Cleveland and the Sweet 16. The UCLA Bruins think earning the first spot in a regional semifinal should be the only answer anyone needs as to why they’re in the NCAA Tournament.
“Now we’re proving that we belong,” UCLA sophomore guard Bryce Alford said.
Kentucky beat Cincinnati 64-51 on Saturday to earn its second straight Sweet 16 berth. The Wildcats will play in Thursday night’s semifinal in the Midwest Region. They are trying to become the first unbeaten champion since Indiana in 1976.
And freshman Karl-Anthony Towns says it’s funny that the Wildcats didn’t even talk about being 36-0.
“We just talked about we’re going to grow old, we’re going to get wrinkles and everything and we’ll be able to say that we are 36-0 at one point,” Towns said. “We’ve been able to do this and we made history tonight. He left us with this that we need to work harder if we want to continue making even more history and beat our history. That’s what we’re looking forward to doing.”
UCLA now has won consecutive games away from Pauley Pavilion for the first time this season beating No. 14 seed UAB 92-75 in the South Region.
Here are some takeaways from Saturday’s games in Louisville:
SKY-HIGH KENTUCKY: Yes, Willie-Cauley Stein’s high-flying dunk over Quadri Moore was impressive and emphatic. The Wildcats also managed to swat nine shots out of the air as well, including six in the second half as they worked to match Cincinnati’s physical approach.
Aaron Harrison scored 13 points, Trey Lyles added 11 with 11 rebounds and the Wildcats showed they can grind it out with an opponent if they must.
GETTING AHEAD OF THEMSELVES: Not to say the Wildcats are ready for Cleveland, but their game notes going into Cincinnati pointed out that the 36-0 start is the best for any team John Calipari has ever coached. Turns out they were right. The Wildcats now have won six straight by double digits, and this latest win surpassed last year’s Wichita State squad for the most victories to start the season. Kentucky squashed the Shockers’ run in the third round last March.
BRUIN TURNAROUND: Remember, this is the very same UCLA team that managed to score only seven points in the first half against Kentucky back in December and also lost five straight between the end of December and into January. But Tony Parker turned in the most points by a Bruin in the tournament since Kevin Love had 29 against Western Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on March 27, 2008, a game after Alford had 27 in UCLA’s win over SMU on Thursday.
Parker topped Alford’s performance with a career-high 28 points and also grabbed 12 rebounds, leading five Bruins in double figures. The Bruins (22-13) now are back in the Sweet 16 a year after losing to Florida, and it’s the first consecutive regional semifinals for UCLA since going to the Final Four three straight seasons between 2006 and 2008.
UCLA INSIDE-OUT: So Alford was 9 of 11 from 3-point range in the Bruins’ opening game. Against UAB, Parker had room to roam, helping UCLA outrebound UAB 41-26 with a 52-22 scoring edge in the paint.
KENTUCKY: Maryland or West Virginia in Cleveland on Thursday night.
UCLA: Gonzaga or Iowa in Houston on Friday night.
AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves contributed to this report.
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