NCAA B

If Kentucky goes undefeated, credit its defense

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From the season's start, it was clear that Kentucky would make its case to be called the best team in college men's basketball. But after a scintillating 12-0 start, perhaps the Wildcats have moved on to a higher honorific: best college squad ever.

Of course, hyperbole is always abundant here in late December, too early for teams' bubble hopes to be crushed yet early enough to start prognosticating. And with the way Kentucky has been playing, college basketball's soothe-saying analysts have an undefeated season in their cards.

There are reasons to think such optimism, while warranted, is premature. After all, the Wildcats have benefited from a home-heavy early slate - every game has been within the safe confines of Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., or at a neutral site that may as well be a home game with the way Kentucky fans travel. Their first true away contest will be a stout challenge against No. 4 Louisville on Saturday.

But if they emerge from that game unscathed, it's not hard to imagine Kentucky making a run at an unblemished record. And if they do, it will be riding the star power of their defense, rather than the offensive calling card of past Kentucky teams.

UCLA dismantling

The Bruins are a middling team this year, despite their pedigree, at 8-4. But man, as the Wildcats went on a 24-0 run to start Saturday's marquee match-up, on their way to a 41-7 halftime lead, it was clear that Kentucky was rising to world-beater status.

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Guards Aaron Harrison (15 points) and Devin Booker (19 points) led the way on offense, but forward Willie Cauley-Stein's four blocks told the real story. That, plus a 34-22 advantage in defensive rebounding, combined to give the Kentucky a recipe for victory that made this a snoozefest by halftime.

The 7-point first frame was UCLA's lowest scoring first half ever (the previous school mark for futility was 14 points, double that), and it was the fewest amount in a half by a Kentucky opponent since December 1943.

That led UCLA coach Steve Alford to pull a verbal throwing up of his hands after the 83-44 decision.

"If they continue to play at that level defensively, I'm a firm believe they got a chance to run this thing out," Alford said to ESPN.

Hot streak

During Kentucky's early run of success, the Wildcats have become the top scoring defense and also lead the nation in blocks. Opponents are scoring a league-low 47.7 points against them and they are averaging almost nine blocks a game.

As stated before, Louisville will provide Kentucky's biggest test of the season. If there is any chance for a stumble, it will be that in-state rivalry game. Two games against Alabama, Mizzouri and Alabama will provide challenges, but a loss in those games would be a serious upset.

With the Wildcats hanging their hat on defense this year, it would be a shocker if they didn't make their second consecutive title game come March.

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NCAA B
March Madness

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