Cal: Cats will have to scratch and claw against Bruins

Published 11:00 am Friday, December 16, 2022

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Kentucky coach John Calipari has scouted UCLA enough to know the Bruins won’t be an easy task when the two storied programs meet Saturday at Madison Square Garden in the annual CBS Sports Classic.

“I’ve watched a bunch of tape on them,” Calipari said. “They’re really good. The biggest thing is they’re really physical — defensively, they’re really physical They are fighting screens, fighting in the post, fighting pick and rolls. If you don’t fight, you have no chance in this game.”

The No. 16 Bruins are holding opponents to just 63 points per game. UCLA (9-2) is on a seven-game winning streak following back-to-back losses to Illinois and Baylor in November. The Bruins easily defeated 20th-ranked Maryland 87-60 Wednesday night at College Park.

Calipari took notice of the Bruins’ performance against the Terrapins and came away impressed.

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“When they shoot the ball like they shot (Wednesday against Maryland), it becomes (tougher)…this will be a really hard game for us.”

In his observation, Calipari said UCLA’s toughness “comes from their guards.”

“Their guards play physical — they bump and grind and they’re active,” he said. “They’re good and I’m anxious to see how we perform, and I think we’re better than we were a few weeks ago — we’re executing better and we’re playing more together. There is less confusion on what we’re doing.”

UCLA coach Mick Cronin said the Bruins have developed a trademark for their defense during his tenure and added it has made a difference in the nine victories this season.

“We’re 55-2 in the last four years when we hold teams under 65 points,” he said following the win over Maryland. “That might be why we win. Everyone has players, (but) you have to play defense.”


Calipari said teaching younger players is “the best part of what we do” and part of that education is “playing in environments like we come into, wherever we’re playing.”

The Kentucky coach is looking forward to playing at Madison Square Garden.

“I’m blessed to be the coach at Kentucky,” he said. “I get to coach the best players and be with the best fans and sold-out arenas, played all over the world in front of our fans. It will be interesting to see (how we do)…I’m having a ball with this.”

He added that tickets have been hard to come by ahead of the showdown between the two schools. Ohio State and North Carolina play in the first game of a doubleheader at 3 p.m. Kentucky, No. 13 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25, is looking for its first win over a ranked opponent this season.

“The tickets have been impossible (to come by),” he said. “This might be the toughest ticket that I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Probably will have to look back, there may have been some others. This ticket, if need two tickets and go online and buy them, there are no tickets.”