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UCLA lands much-needed win over No. 7 Kentucky

CBS Sports Classic

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 23: Aaron Holiday #3 of the UCLA Bruins drives against Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #22 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the first half of the CBS Sports Classic at the Smoothie King Center on December 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

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Aaron Holiday finished with 20 points and eight assists and Kris Wilkes chipped in with 20 points of his own as UCLA landed their first marquee win in their final non-conference game, knocking off No. 7 Kentucky, 83-75.

It’s a massive win for a UCLA team that desperately needed something good to happen to them.

The Bruins were 8-3 on the season entering Saturday. They were coming off an overtime loss to Michigan and a beatdown at home against Cincinnati. Their best win on the season, to date, came against a down Wisconsin team, and on Friday night the program announced that the two players that had shoplifted alongside Liangelo Ball would be suspended for the rest of the season.

UCLA was in danger of putting themselves in a position to end up back in the NIT. They only play the Arizona schools once during Pac-12 play, and those might actually be the only two good teams in the conference. Oregon has potential, as does USC, but neither of those programs have done much of anything this season.

The Bruins badly needed this.

But the thing is, Kentucky kind of did, too.

The Wildcats now have just two non-conference games left: Louisville at home and at West Virginia in January. As it stands, a win over Virginia Tech at home is their only win against a top 70 team on KenPom, and a win over Monmouth is their only win away from Rupp Arena.

Hamidou Diallo finished with 18 points and Kevin Knox added 15, but the Wildacats found themselves in a hole early in the second half and were never able to dig their way out. As a team, UCLA shot 12-for-30 from beyond the arc, and one of the reasons they were able to get so many clean looks from three was that Kentucky could not keep UCLA out of the paint.

It’s a concern that’s worth mentioning for the Wildcats at this point. For a team that was supposed to be a menace on the defensive side of the ball, they’ve now given up 86 points (on 76 possessions) and 83 points (on roughly 71 possessions) in their last two games.