Chuck Berry passed away yesterday, so it seems only fitting to lead off with this:
This was always going to be an interesting game for the Bruins: the Bearcats were the stylistic opposite of the Bruins, with a strong defense and an average (to good) offense. So, it provided a good opportunity to see how the Bruins would fair against a top-tier defense (Cincinnati entered the postseason with the 10th best AdjD according to KenPom). Plus, this was a popular upset pick for people who either hadn’t watched a UCLA game before or were Joe Lunardi.
Suffice to say, the first half didn’t go so well for the Bruins. Players missed shots (T.J. Leaf and Bryce Alford, two of the offensive catalysts for the team, were a combined 1-9 in the first half), and the Bearcats dictated the pace of the game. UCLA tried to play their zone, and Cincinnati immediately started attacking the corners, hitting a series of corner threes and forcing the Bruins to abandon the zone for most of the game.
That did turn out to be a bit of a blessing, though. UCLA played some of their best man-to-man defense of the season, forcing 8 turnovers in the first half to help keep the Bruins in the game. On the whole, the Bearcats shot 44.8% from the field, including 35% from distance, and if the Bruins can force teams to shoot at those levels that would be a huge benefit.
Why? Well, the Bruins offense returned with a righteous fury in the second half. UCLA shot a bit over 35% in the first half, so to finish at 50% should give you an idea of how dominant the Bruin offense was in the second half. UCLA put the game away with a barrage of 3s, including a sequence where Lonzo Ball hit two step-back 3 pointers, followed up by a Bryce Alford 3 to turn a 47-46 Bearcat lead into a 55-47 UCLA lead that they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
So off the Bruins head to Memphis, with the offense seemingly returning to form and the defense looking as good as it has all season. This is good news, because the Bruins will need to be at their best if they want to win their rematch against Kentucky.
Lonzo Ball led the Bruins with 18 points and 9 assists, while tying for the rebounding lead with T.J. Leaf and Thomas Welsh with 7. Jarron Cumberland led the Bearcats with 15 points.
- Player of the Game: Lonzo Ball - At halftime, a lot of media people remarked that Lonzo Ball needed to take over the game if the Bruins were going to win. So that’s exactly what he did. Lonzo finished with a ridiculous stat line of 18 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals, leading the team in all of those statistical categories. Sometimes it pays to have the best player on the court, and UCLA is lucky that they have the best player in the tournament wearing their colors.
- Ike makes an impact - Ike Anigbogu sat out Friday’s first-round game against Kent State with a sprained foot, and while he was cleared to play today, he didn’t see action until there were 2 minutes left in the first half. That said, Ike really did help change the game on both sides of the ball. Ike is the physical presence that neither Thomas Welsh nor T.J. Leaf really are, and it showed as the Bruins were able to start limiting Cincinnati inside. On the offensive end, Ike’s physicality allowed him to bully his way inside and draw fouls. Ike finished with 6 points on 2-2 shooting, and his display of health in this game is a great sign going into the Kentucky game.
- No fouls? No problem. - Refereeing has been a hot topic in the past few days of the NCAA tournament, and there had to be a bit of a fear that UCLA might end up on the wrong side of the ref game. It didn’t help that Cincinnati is a physical team in a tournament where refs swallow their whistles a bit more often. So it was encouraging to see UCLA handle that physicality in stride, and even better to see them limit their fouls, especially in the second half where the Bruins only committed 2 fouls total.
Next up? A rematch with the Kentucky Wildcats in Memphis. Game should be on Friday, time to come.