THREE TO WATCH: Ball, Leaf and Alford

T.J. Walker, Basketball Recruiting Analyst
Cats Illustrated

With a trip to the Elite Eight on the line the Cats can't dwell on their early season loss to the Bruins.

But Kentucky can learn from that performance. The Cats had trouble slowing down any UCLA player as the Bruins cruised to 97 points. For the Sweet 16 matchup the Cats will need to try and slowdown Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf and Bryce Alford.

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THREE TO WATCH:

Lonzo Ball: 6-foot-6, 190-pound point guard. Ball is averaging 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game. Ball did a lot of good things against UK in the first meeting but did turn the ball over six times.

T.J. Leaf: 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward. Leaf is averaging 16.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Leaf dominated the Cats for a double-double in the first meeting with 17 points and 13 rebounds.

Bryce Alford: 6-foot-3, 185-pound guard. Alford is averaging 15.6 points and 2.6 assists per game. He's shooting 43.3 percent from deep hitting 113 triples on the season.

STRENGTHS:

Lonzo Ball: Ball may be the best player in the country with the ball in his hands. He's the best passer in college basketball and sees plays before they develop. But Ball just isn't a distributor. Ball also shoots 42 percent from deep and has hit 79 triples on the season. Ball doesn't make too many mistakes despite his game at Rupp Arena. Ball is also a solid defender whose length makes life difficult for the opposing offenses.

T.J. Leaf: When Leaf steps off the bus he's not going to intimidate the other team, but fewer players play harder and it shows on the floor. Leaf is an aggressive rebounder that reads the ball well coming off the rim, but he's also a very gifted scorer. He can score outside, he can score at the rim and doesn't take too many bad shots.

Bryce Alford: Alford is in the conversation as one of the best shooters in the country. Many have been impressed with Monk's three-point shooting this season, and for good reason, but Alford has made 13 more threes in one fewer game and is more efficient. If UK leaves him open he will make the Cats pay. It also would be wise for UK to not send him to the line.

WEAKNESSES:

Lonzo Ball: There's not many weaknesses for any of the players listed but Ball does average nearly 2.5 turnovers per game. Ball has a tendency to try and do too much and that can hurt the Bruins at times. If UCLA were to get down on Friday that could be good news for the Cats as Ball may try to take over the game and force mistakes.

T.J. Leaf: Foul trouble isn't a major issue for Leaf but he does usually pick up three or four fouls in a game. If Kentucky can go after him early that would be huge for the Cats' chances. Leaf isn't an overly aggressive defender but does fly after rebounds. UK needs to try and attack him on offense.

Bryce Alford: Alford's weakness is only if he's missing, and if he's missing shots he's not doing too much for the Bruins. Once the UCLA point guard now his goal is to hang out on the perimeter and make it rain. If he's having an off night then that would be huge for UK. The Cats have to make shots difficult for him and hope that it's not his night in Memphis.

MATCHUPS:

Lonzo Ball: De'Aaron Fox. This is the matchup that the nation wants to see. The two best point guards in the country going against one another in the NCAA Tournament. Fox's length could make things difficult for Ball but most likely is that both players will have offensive success on Friday.

T.J. Leaf: Derek Willis. Willis better be ready to go because this may be the most important matchup of the game. Leaf can't have another big game of the Cats will be toast.

Bryce Alford: Malik Monk. Monk's length can bother Alford and will make it difficult for him to get shots off easily. Monk has to be ready to follow Alford all over the court and can't leave the senior for a second.

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