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Turnovers doom No. 13 Kentucky basketball in loss to No. 16 UCLA: 3 takeaways

NEW YORK — Kentucky men's basketball on Saturday had a final opportunity to make a statement — against a team of substance — before Christmas. (No, next week's game against Florida A&M, which fell to 2-7 after Saturday's loss to Louisville, wouldn't qualify.) Entering this contest against UCLA, UK owned an 0-2 record in its two most high-profile games of the year: a double-overtime setback to Michigan State in Indianapolis and a lopsided loss to Gonzaga in Spokane, Washington.

Make that 0-3.

The No. 13 Wildcats trailed for nearly the entire game, falling to the No. 16 Bruins 63-53 at Madison Square Garden in Game 2 of the CBS Sports Classic.

The first game of the doubleheader, featuring North Carolina and Ohio State, was a back-and-forth tussle that went to overtime before the Tar Heels pulled out an 89-84 victory.

The Wildcats (7-3) only wish they could have made the nightcap as dramatic. Instead, they spent almost the entirety of the game on the wrong side of the scoreboard. The Bruins (10-2) led for a hair less than 36 minutes. In fact, the game was tied for longer (2:54) than UK led (1:13).

"I'm disappointed," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "I'm disappointed that we lost, but I'm also disappointed in plays that I thought we could make."

Kentucky's margin of defeat belied how much UCLA controlled the game from start to finish.

A 10-words-or-less recap of UK's loss would read thusly:

Too many turnovers. Not enough points.

The Wildcats finished with 18 turnovers, a season high.

Try as they might, they couldn't overcome that many errors.

Freshman forward Chris Livingston tried his best, however, scoring a personal-best 14 points off the bench to lead the Wildcats. Senior point guard Sahvir Wheeler was the only other UK player in double-figures, finishing with 11 points after connecting on five of his seven field goal attempts. Senior forward Oscar Tshiebwe pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds.

The Bruins had a trio of double-figure scorers — 19 for Jaime Jaquez Jr., 13 for Tyger Campbell and 12 for Jaylen Clark. Jaquez also grabbed 12 rebounds to post a double-double, while his four steals tied Clark for the most in Saturday's game.

Kentucky will try to regroup heading into its aforementioned game against Florida A&M, set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Rupp Arena.

Three takeaways from the Wildcats' 10-point loss:

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers

Dec 17, 2022; New York, New York, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard CJ Fredrick (1) loses control of the ball as he slips and falls against UCLA Bruins guard David Singleton (34) and guard Jaylen Clark (0) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 17, 2022; New York, New York, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard CJ Fredrick (1) loses control of the ball as he slips and falls against UCLA Bruins guard David Singleton (34) and guard Jaylen Clark (0) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky hasn't had many issues this season taking care of the ball.

On the contrary, the Wildcats are one of the best. Entering Saturday's game, their assist-to-turnover ratio was 1.54, tied for 13th nationally and second in the SEC to only Missouri (1.59).

UK averaged just 12 giveaways a game through its first nine outings this season.

The Wildcats had that many in the first half alone.

It's not as if all the turnovers were self-inflicted. Kentucky was facing one of the most disruptive defenses in the country, as UCLA forces 17.5 a game — the top mark in the Pac-12.

Though UK had half as many turnovers (six) after intermission as it did in the opening 20 minutes, missing out on that many scoring opportunities against a team as good as UCLA isn't a winning formula.

"Eighteen turnovers," Calipari said, "and most of it (was) just rough play that we couldn't bust through — get open on a screen, on a dribble handoff."

Livingston lights it up

Dec 17, 2022; New York, New York, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Chris Livingston (24) drives to the basket against UCLA Bruins guard Jaylen Clark (0) and guard David Singleton (34) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 17, 2022; New York, New York, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Chris Livingston (24) drives to the basket against UCLA Bruins guard Jaylen Clark (0) and guard David Singleton (34) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a constant source of consternation in certain factions of Kentucky's fan base that Livingston, for all his talent, simply hasn't played enough to this point in the 2022-23 campaign.

Those wanting to see him take on a larger role were rewarded Saturday.

He played 24 minutes, a career high. He didn't let the minutes go to waste, nor did he force the issue offensively. His team-high point total came via a 5-of-8 performance from the field (2 for 3 on 3-pointers) and a 2-for-3 showing at the free-throw line.

"I just think I was being very patient with offense," he said.

Despite his stellar performance, it's likely the final two minutes are what will stick with him: With Kentucky trailing 58-53, he went to the charity stripe for a one-and-one. He missed — just his second misfire in 16 attempts this season.

Forty seconds later, he drove to the basket and drew contact as he fell to the floor. But no whistle followed. He only could look up at an official, arms upraised, perplexed by a foul call that didn't come.

While it came in a losing effort, Livingston put forth a compelling case Saturday.

He deserves to play more. Far more. Perhaps even a return to the starting lineup, where he spent the first three games.

Especially in light of Jacob Toppin's struggles Saturday — the senior forward, playing in front of older brother (and New York Knick) Obi Toppin, missed 10 of the 12 shots he took and sported a team-worst negative-16 on the plus-minus chart, which came on the heels of a four-point effort versus Yale last week — Livingston certainly made an argument he shouldn't be coming off the bench any longer.

Welcome back, Ware

Junior forward Lance Ware didn't play in Kentucky's last game, a win over Yale. And he hadn't played more than 13 minutes since the loss to Michigan State. But he was on the floor for 14 minutes Saturday.

While he didn't dominate — he ended with two points, five rebounds and three assists — his plus-8 on the plus-minus chart not only was Kentucky's best score in that category, but he was the lone Wildcat with a positive figure.

The bounce-back showing came less than 100 miles away from his hometown of Camden, New Jersey.

Reach Kentucky men’s basketball and football reporter Ryan Black at rblack@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter at @RyanABlack.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky vs UCLA basketball: Turnovers doom Wildcats in New York