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Keith Taylor: UK makes first trip to UCLA in more than five decades for showdown with Bruins

 Kentucky's Charles Matthews, left, and Alex Poythress battle for a loose ball earlier this week. The Wildcats play at UCLA Thursday

Kentucky’s Charles Matthews, left, and Alex Poythress battle for a loose ball earlier this week. The Wildcats play at UCLA Thursday (Bill Thiry Photo)

It’s been more than 50 years since Kentucky has played UCLA on the Bruins’ home court.

The top-ranked Wildcats (7-0) will take on UCLA (4-3) in Los Angeles for the first time since the 1959-60 season when the Wildcats left Westwood with a 68-66 victory.

Kentucky leads the all-time series between the two collegiate basketball powerhouses 7-4 and most of those games have played on a neutral court. Although the two teams have met twice in Lexington, the Wildcats have never played at historic Pauley Pavilion and will be making their first appearance tonight.

“I’ve seen it, (it’s a) really nice building,” Calipari said. “(In) the Hall of Fame there, they have John Wooden’s office, the way it was encased — the history of that program. And I think us, having an opportunity to go there, it’s going to be neat. A neat trip.”

The trip will be extra special for Kentucky junior Marcus Lee, who is from Antioch, California, located six hours north of Los Angeles. Lee has had today’s date circled on his calendar since last year.

“We never go that far,” Lee said. “We never go past Texas, probably. But I’m really excited to go home. I’ve been waiting for this for three years to go home and have my friends and family come watch or just to have my team come see where I live and see what’s the difference between Kentucky and California. So I’m really loving going home.”

Kentucky is coming off a 75-63 win over Illinois State Monday in a game in which the Wildcats struggled without starting point guard Tyler Ulis, who injured his elbow in last week’s win over South Florida in Miami. Calipari said if Ulis was unable to practice Wednesday, he likely wouldn’t play against the Bruins.

Without Ulis in the lineup, the Wildcats committed 15 turnovers against the Redbirds and got just two points from freshman center Skal Labissiere. Calipari expects Steve Alford’s squad to take advantage of the Wildcats’ inexperience in the post.

“If they watch this game, they’re going to post us up,” Calipari said. “Tony Parker is (a good post player), every time they throw it, they’re going to go at our bigs. We better have some ideas what have we’re going to do. Steve’s terrific at what he does. He’s figured it out. I’ve coached against him a couple times.”

A year ago, the Wildcats rolled to an 83-44 victory over the Bruins in the CBS Sports Classic at the United Center in Chicago. Calipari said last year’s beatdown will have no bearing on the 12th meeting between the two schools.

“Last year was an outlier,” Calipari said. “I had a ridiculous team. And they would go into a game like that to smoke somebody like they did Kansas. They would go in with that mentality. This team is, we don’t have that mentality.”

Kentucky freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe said the team’s first true road game of the season will be exciting, but doesn’t consider the contest any bigger than the Wildcats’ previous opponent.

“Every game is a big deal,” Briscoe said. “They’re a good team from what I hear. We hope to get better day-by-day and then when we play UCLA, hopefully, we can get the win.”

Game tracker: Kentucky at UCLA, 9 p.m., Thursday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a columnist and senior sports writer who covers University of Kentucky athletics for KyForward.com

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