USA Today Sports’ Nancy Armour recaps wins by North Carolina and Kentucky on Friday in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16.
USA TODAY Sports
The spotlight was undoubtedly shining on UCLA star point guard Lonzo Ball Friday night. In a game between two of college basketball’s greatest bluebloods, with Lakers president Magic Johnson in attendance, and a trip to the Elite Eight on the line, the national freshman of the year was underwhelming — finishing with 10 points and 8 assists — and heavily outperformed by Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, who had a blistering 39 points to help send the Wildcats to the Elite Eight.
UCLA’s loss concluded a polarizing season in which Ball led the nation in assists and helped transform a 15-17 UCLA squad into a title contender with his court vision, pinpoint passing and jaw-dropping playmaking.
SWEET 16: Kentucky beats UCLA
BRACKET: Follow the tournament
Yet the first team All-American was thrust further into the spotlight not just for his play on the court, but for his father LaVar’s outlandish commentary about his son off it, including a claim that Lonzo was better than Steph Curry. Not on Friday night. Curry’s Davidson Flyers reached the Elite Eight in 2008.
Except Ball himself was more humble than his father and the difference between Ball’s polarizing freshman season and Ben Simmons’ at LSU last year was that Ball had one of the more impressive one-and-done careers of all-time while making his team outrageously better in the process.
Ball quickly confirmed what was widely expected in it being his only season with the Bruins, saying at postgame news conference on Friday that he’s heading to the NBA.
After the game, Fox was interviewed and asked if his 39-point performance — the best in this year’s tournament — was meant to send a message. His response said quite a bit.
“There’s a reason he’s the No. 1 pick in the draft,” Fox said on CBS.
But will he be?
Coming into the NCAA tournament, NBA scouts had Washington’s Markelle Fultz slightly ahead of Ball on their boards (via ESPN). A Final Four run with the Bruins would have kept Ball out front ahead of Fultz in top pick debate. But with Ball’s season over and struggling against NBA-bound Fox on the national stage, now Ball could fall on draft boards.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SWEET 16