Kentucky dominates UCLA in second half to set up clash with North Carolina

Get ready for one heck of a final in the South Region.

No. 2 seed Kentucky pulled away from No. 3 UCLA in the second half Friday, winning 86-75 to set up a showdown with top-seeded North Carolina on Sunday with a spot in the Final Four at stake.

After a back-and-forth first half, Kentucky took a 36-33 lead to the break. The second half started with a bang, as the teams combined for 30 points in the first 5:17, capped by a Bryce Alford 3-pointer that cut Kentucky’s lead to 50-49. But the Wildcats took over from there, going on a 21-9 run to build a 13-point lead and take control in the final stages.

Super freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk were fantastic for Kentucky. Fox led the way with 39 points on 13-of-20 shooting, and Monk had 21 points and was 8 of 17 from the floor.

The loss brings to an end the exciting freshman season of Lonzo Ball, who is almost certainly headed to the NBA Draft and a possible No. 1 overall pick, the first step toward the billion-dollar contract his father has foreseen. He was less than stellar on Friday, getting just 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting.

For the Wildcats, they live to see another day, and there will be no rest for the weary. Sunday’s game against the Tar Heels will be a rematch of one of the best games of this season. Kentucky beat them 103-100 in December in Las Vegas behind an astounding 47-point effort from Monk.

The winner of that then gets Kansas or Oregon in the national semifinals. The left side of the bracket, meanwhile, will offer a pair of surprises and/or first-timers in the Final Four. Gonzaga, Xavier and South Carolina are all in the Elite Eight without ever having made the final weekend. Either No. 8 seed Wisconsin or No. 4 Florida will join them shortly.