NEW ORLEANS — UCLA guard Aaron Holiday delivered a steadying performance and a clutch finish to a made-for-TV holiday weekend event.
And he did it in the same arena where his brother, Jrue Holiday, plays home games in the NBA — albeit to the disappointment of a decidedly pro-Kentucky crowd.
Holiday capped a 20-point performance with a pivotal driving scoop and two free throws in the final 33 seconds, and UCLA upset No. 7 Kentucky, 83-75, on Saturday.
“It’s always special when you can play where your brother’s played,” Holiday said. “Obviously, he’s doing really well right now [with the New Orleans Pelicans], so that’s good. But just to get the win out here, it’s just awesome.”
Kris Wilkes also scored 20 points, and Thomas Welsh added 13 points and 11 rebounds for UCLA (9-3), which won for the seventh time in 15 meetings between these historical college basketball powerhouses.
Bruins coach Steve Alford thought the victory was an important step for a squad relying on freshmen such as Wilkes and some returning players who didn’t see heavy minutes last season.
“It’s good for them to see that, you know what, we can win a game like this,” Alford said. “If we keep growing, we could be pretty good.”
Hamidou Diallo scored 18 points and Wenyen Gabriel added a season-high 16 points for Kentucky (9-2), which lost for the first time in the last eight games.
“We’re better than this,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who harped on his players’ poor decision-making and inconsistent effort. “Maybe it was Christmas, but [UCLA] didn’t have that issue and they flew from across the country. And hats off to them. They played well. They made shots they had to make. They made free throws they had to make.”
Kevin Knox had 15 points for Kentucky on an array of perimeter shots and slashing dunks, but Kentucky didn’t shoot well overall. The Wildcats went 6-for-21 from three-point range and were outshot overall, 47.5 percent (29-for-61) to 42.6 percent (29-for-68).
Kentucky hit only 2-for-10 on threes in the first half.
Yet when Gabriel made the Wildcats’ second three-pointer 17 minutes into the game, Kentucky led 37-29.
But Jaylen Hands’ layup and Welsh’s three ignited what grew into a 21-2 Bruins run, putting UCLA ahead 50-39 early in the second half. Welsh and Prince Ali each hit two threes during the pivotal surge.
Kentucky didn’t go down easily, though. Knox hit two three-pointers and a soaring baseline dunk during a 13-2 Kentucky spurt that tied it at 52 and spiked the volume of the crowd.
But a poised Welsh again helped spark a UCLA spurt with a steady jump shot as the crowd urged on Kentucky’s defense, and the Bruins built their lead back to 12 on Holiday’s free throws before Kentucky made one last charge that came up short.