The second-seeded Wildcats beat third-seeded UCLA 86-75 in the South Region semifinals in Memphis, Tennessee. And Fox scored a season-high 39 points to get the better of UCLA's Lonzo Ball in a matchup of star freshmen point guards.
Fellow freshman Malik Monk scored 21 points to help Kentucky earn a matchup with No. 1 seed North Carolina in Sunday's regional final.
Ball managed just 10 points.
Below is NJ.com's preview of the game:
The No. 2 seeded Kentucky Wildcats (31-5) meet the No. 3 seeded UCLA Bruins (31-4) in the South Region of the 2017 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 on Friday, March 24, 2017, at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee.
The winner advances to the Elite 8.
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Here's what you need to know:
Who: Kentucky (31-5) vs, UCLA (31-4)
What: NCAA Tournament, Sweet 16
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tenn.
When: Friday, March 24, 2017
Time: 9:30 p.m. Eastern
|Head coach John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats meet the UCLA Bruins in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. (AP Photo | Michael Conroy)|
NCAA Tournament 2017: Let's talk up Kentucky G De'Aaron Fox's dominance of UCLA's Lonzo Ball
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — To his credit, for all the time he has spent in front of a camera or microphone over the course of the past five weeks, and for all the extraordinary basketball players he has judged to be inferior to his son Lonzo, LaVar Ball is not known to have made any public pronouncement disparaging Kentucky freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox.
That’s a relief, right?
Because all the stuff about Lonzo being better than Steph Curry will stand as mere conjecture until at least the autumn, and all the stuff about him being “Magic Johnson with a jump shot” and Michael Jordan’s superior never will be proven either way.
On the other hand, Friday night in the NCAA Tournament's South Region semifinals, Lonzo Ball was confronted in person by Fox. The Wildcats won 86-75. This was not some bar argument or TV debate-show topic. This was an actual basketball game, and Lonzo was not the best point guard on the floor, not even one of the two best freshmen (Malik Monk scored 21 and made four 3-pointers for UK) and really not even one of the three best (UCLA’s T.J. Leaf delivered 17 points and seven rebounds).
It wouldn’t be hyperbole to declare that De'Aaron Fox blew Lonzo Ball off the floor with 39 points and four assists. Those were the most points ever scored by a freshman in an NCAA Tournament game. Think about that. Michael Jordan played in the tournament as a freshman. So did Magic Johnson and Steph Curry. But let’s not allow all that to get out of hand.
“As a competitor, you’re going to be ready for this game,” Fox said. “I know my teammates have my back. If I’m scoring, everybody’s happy for me. You don’t see anybody being selfish or anything like that.”
Ball scored 10 points, passed for eight assists and committed four turnovers. He tried a half-dozen times to change the momentum with one of his deep, Jimmer-style 3-pointers, but only one found the target.
“Not good. I didn’t do nothing to help my team win,” Ball told ESPN. “(Fox is) a great player, one of the best guards in the country, and coming off the screens he’s very difficult to cover.”
They weren’t directly matched the entire night. That’s partly because Ball was among a series of defenders who could not keep Fox from marauding through the lane the Bruins ostensibly were defending. Fox was 13 of 20 from the field and converted 13 of 15 free throws.
“When I missed one of those free throws at the end, Malik said, ‘Man, you scared to get 40,’ ” Fox said. “I was like, ‘Man, that’s crazy.’
Through the course of winning the SEC Tournament and advancing to the NCAA Elite Eight, the Wildcats have played six postseason games and Fox has led the team in scoring in every one. He has averaged 23 points and shot 57 percent from the field.
This is the player many of us imagined he would become when he tore through the non-conference portion of Kentucky’s season with his astonishing quickness, length and dexterity. He recorded a triple-double against Arizona State. He scored 24 points and passed for 10 assists in a win over North Carolina. He had 27 points, six assists and six rebounds in a win over Arkansas.
Then he hurt his ankle in a win over South Carolina. He played eight minutes that day. To that point in the season, he’d been an All-American. He wasn’t that player again for more than a month. He contributed a bit to some important results, but he wasn’t this guy.
“Today all I did at halftime is say, ‘Guys, are you watching this game?’ They said, 'Yeah,'” coach John Calipari said. “OK, good, then you know we’re playing through De’Aaron Fox. The rest of you take a back seat, play off him, but everything we’re doing good is through him. And they were ecstatic: 'Good, let’s do it.'”
The offensive explosion from Fox was easy to see and easier to quantify. His performance on defense, and the team’s work collectively on that end, might have been even more impressive.
Because, think about it: The Wildcats were playing against one of the poorer defenses, statistically, in the tournament. They should score on UCLA. But these Bruins -- and too bad we’ve seen the last of them, with Ball declaring for the NBA Draft in the locker room postgame — were the best offensive team of this decade. They averaged 90 points and were held under 80 just 10 times. If not for a late, pointless basket in the final 30 seconds, UK would have held the Bruins to their lowest scoring output of the season.
“We did an excellent job of getting after them. They made some tough shots, but we never relinquished. We stayed after them,” Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne said. “They understand over the last month how important the defensive end is to this team.”
After losing 97-92 to the Bruins at home in December, and given their success Sunday in a low-possession game against Wichita State, it stood to reason the Wildcats might try avoid racing into another 90-mph game this time. Payne said that was not Kentucky’s approach.
“Not at all,” he said. “We would love to play a 90-point game with them, but we don’t want them to score 90. Our motto was, 'We don’t want this to be an offensive game for both teams.'”
It was not an offensive game for both point guards, certainly.
“Fox had one of those special nights,” said noted basketball dad Steve Alford.
It seems certain one member of the Ball family, maybe two, did not see this coming.
As Kentucky, De’Aaron Fox blow past UCLA, Twitter crushes Lavar Ball
It’s safe to say that Lavar Ball became the villain of the NCAA Tournament with his many brash statements.
Ball, the father of UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, managed to draw hate from the likes of Kirk Herbstreit AND Stephen A. Smith. And his son’s UCLA struggled down the stretch, Twitter had no problem taking countless shots at the older ball.
It also didn’t helped the at Lonzo was thoroughly outplayed by Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox. Fox finished the game with a career-high 39 points and 4 assists while Ball finished with just 10 points and 8 assists. And Ball’s team was stuck with the season ending loss, as Kentucky won 86-75.
So needless to say fans had plenty to say about Lavar Ball’s brash ways.
Kentucky will take on North Carolina on Sunday with tip scheduled for 5:05 p.m. ET in Memphis. Kentucky and North Carolina met earlier in the year with the Wildcats winning 103-100.