With UCLA, Kentucky and North Carolina, South Regional has a case of the blues

They turned the Las Vegas Strip into a blue blob for one chilly night three months ago, fans from UCLA, Kentucky and North Carolina commingling in jerseys and T-shirts bearing the famous hues of their schools.

The banter was friendly and the jabs mostly good-natured, the powerhouse teams having gathered along with Ohio State in the same city for the CBS Sports Classic, a high-profile but relatively low-stakes one-day event.

UCLA defeated the Buckeyes with ease in the first game. Then Kentucky’s Malik Monk became a showstopping solo act, the freshman guard scoring 47 points and making a late three-pointer that edged North Carolina during a wild 103-100 victory on Dec. 17 that left fans wanting more.

They will get their wish this week, college basketball’s Blue Man Group reuniting on a far larger stage. Third-seeded UCLA (31-4) will play second-seeded Kentucky (31-5) on Friday evening in an NCAA tournament South Regional semifinal at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., a rematch of a game won by the Bruins in December. Top-seeded North Carolina will face fourth-seeded Butler in the preceding regional semifinal.

“That’s a demanding bracket,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said Sunday after his team overran Cincinnati in the second half of a second-round triumph over the Bearcats.

The Bruins and Wildcats might be as well-acquainted as any nonconference foes. Two weeks before they gathered in Las Vegas, UCLA knocked off then-top-ranked Kentucky, 97-92, at Rupp Arena to end the Wildcats’ 42-game home-court winning streak.

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