UCLA gets revenge on No. 1 Kentucky with 87-77 win at Pauley Pavilion

UCLA's Isaac Hamiloton battles for a loose ball with Kentuky's Skal Labissiere in the second half at Pauly Pavillion on Thursday.

UCLA’s Isaac Hamiloton battles for a loose ball with Kentuky’s Skal Labissiere in the second half at Pauly Pavillion on Thursday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

For a second or two, UCLA’s players stood motionless.

They didn’t know what to do. Prince Ali lay on the ground, but he was not hurt. Kentucky’s Alex Poythress lingered above him, shoulders sagging. The Bruins needed a moment to process it: Ali’s dunk, UCLA’s dominance and the upset that all now knew was imminent.

At once, they clicked into motion. Tony Parker rushed over to pick up Ali, who laughed and bobbed his head. Ali stood up and flexed. Thomas Welsh, howling, gave him a shove.

UCLA was already leading Kentucky, and now a pain that had simmered for a year had been extinguished after this vicious dunk. Ali had torn past Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis, who fell to the floor, zoomed up with one hand and slammed over Poythress, who fouled out in the process.


Pauley Pavilion erupted in cheers. If, midway through the second half on Thursday, Kentucky had any will left, UCLA had broken it. The Bruins upset No. 1 Kentucky, 87-77.

Few had given UCLA a chance. Ultimately, the game wasn’t close.

“Heard a lot this week about trying to keep it competitive,” guard Bryce Alford said, smirking. “So I’m glad we did that.”

It was the Bruins’ first win over a No. 1 team since 2003. UCLA (5-3) hadn’t beaten a ranked nonconference opponent in Coach Steve Alford’s tenure. When it played No. 1 Kentucky last season, the Wildcats scored the game’s first 24 points. UCLA scored just seven in the first half.

In the days leading up to this game, Alford didn’t show the film of that game. He was worried his players would be tentative.

He addressed it once, he said. If you are going to be scared, he told his players, then don’t show up. “If you want me to cancel it, we’ll cancel it,” he said.

The Bruins quickly exorcised last season’s dubious milestones. They scored in less than a minute, took the lead within two and topped seven points within three.

With each possession, they seemed to gain confidence. Late in the first half, Isaac Hamilton threw an inbound pass off Ulis’ back and scooped up the ball for an easy layup. Ulis looked bewildered.

Ninety seconds later, Hamilton hit a runner, and Kentucky Coach John Calipari had seen enough. He called timeout. The UCLA bench bounded onto the floor, exhorting the crowd.

After the timeout, a pair of free throws made it a 10-0 UCLA run. At intermission, the Bruins led 37-29.

“You don’t grow in 20 minutes,” Steve Alford said in the locker room. “You show growth by doing it for 40.”

There was no letdown. All game, UCLA hardly missed. During one second-half sequence Aaron Holiday saved a loose ball, Bryce Alford made another save, drove, lost the ball, got it back and chucked it. The shot went in.

The Bruins shot 52.8% and 45.5% on three-pointers.

Welsh was the leading scorer and rebounder on either team. He made eight of 11 shots for 21 points with 11 rebounds. Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton each contributed 15 points.

Afterward, Welsh was asked how much better, percentage-wise, he was than last season. He smiled. Bryce Alford looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “I’m just trying to work hard,” Welsh said. “I’m not really sure, percentage-wise.”

Kentucky, expecting zone defense, was flustered by UCLA’s man-to-man. Forward Marcus Lee exited with an injury after four minutes. UCLA forced Kentucky into 25 three-pointers, and the Wildcats shot 37.9% overall. Their longest scoring run was five points.

Kentucky (7-1) had trailed for just 17 minutes and 50 seconds all season. UCLA led for the final 38 minutes.

“Their coach outcoached our coach, their guards outhustled our guards to balls, they executed better than us,” Calipari said. “We just — we got kicked.”

Steve Alford called the win “special,” because of last year’s 39-point humiliation. “It’s not like we’ve gotten off to a blazing start this year,” he said. “But we’re growing.”

The crowd at Pauley Pavilion, announced at 12,202, was the biggest in more than a year. There were former UCLA greats.

Jessica Alba, Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson attended. All stood for the final three minutes.

Kentucky surrendered with 22 seconds left. UCLA dribbled out the clock, and students streamed onto the court.

UCLA next

Sunday vs. Long Beach State, 6 p.m., Pauley Pavilion; TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570 — Coming off its biggest win of the season, UCLA will try to avoid a letdown against the 49ers, who snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over Colorado State on Thursday.

Twitter: @zhelfand