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For UCLA, It Was a Tale of Two Halves Against Cincinnati

I don’t think anyone can stop UCLA’s offense for a whole game.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-UCLA vs Cincinnati
TJ Leaf had a champagne second half after a septic tank first half.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

I was not worried when the first half was close or that Cincinnati leading. I knew there was no way any team was going to shut down UCLA for two halves and a one possession lead was not going to be enough. As Mark Whicker writes for the Daily News on UCLA’s 79-67 win over the Bearcats:

The first half belonged in a septic tank. The second half belonged in a Dom Perignon bottle.

A few more like that, and champagne will flow.

For the more cynically fans, there is this take, which we can laugh about now of locker room banter between TJ Leaf and Lonzo Ball:

“We appreciate you, bro,” Ball said.

Said Leaf: “Yeah, I appreciate that, ’Zo.”

Said Ball: “Next time, try to play two halves.”

The two freshmen could openly crack on one another after leading the third-seeded Bruins to an equally joyful 79-67 victory over sixth-seeded Cincinnati in an NCAA tournament second-round game at the Golden 1 Center.

Leaf scored all 11 of his points and grabbed five of his seven rebounds in the second half. Ball scored 11 of his 18 points, snagged five of his seven rebounds and tallied all nine of his assists over the same span. Not to be left out of the fun, UCLA shooting guard Bryce Alford scored 13 of his 16 points after halftime, including a three-pointer during a decisive 9-0 run.

When the big three upped their games in the second half, it was that 9-0 run that stood out:

After grinding through a half of burdensome basketball Sunday night, UCLA suddenly flicked Cincinnati off its shoulders with three quick whisks, in barely a blink, turning a 30-win team into dust in the wind.

Lonzo Ball, trey. Lonzo Ball, trey. Bryce Alford, trey. Whisk, whisk, whisk, in a span of exactly 1 minute 3 seconds, swishes become roars become Bruins dancing on the bench and Bearcats slumping into their shirts.

Ball backpedaled on the first one. Ball raised his right hand to the screaming crowd on the second one. Alford bounced and shouted into the assisting Aaron Holliday on the third one.

It was a 9-0 run that felt like a 90-0 run. It was dramatic, it was theatrical, it was Hollywood, and now it will be Memphis, as the Bruins advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 there after that second-half burst propelled them to a 79-67 victory over Cincinnati at the the Golden 1 Center.

Of course, everything is keyed by the amazing Lonzo Ball.

When asked about how he is so often able to seize momentum for the Bruins, the publicly understated Ball said he just felt like he has “a good feel for the game.”

UCLA head coach Steve Alford was quick to correct the freshman.

“He has a great feel for the game,” the coach said. “Not just good.”

UCLA shot 63.3 percent from the field in the second half after shooting at a 37.5 percent clip in the first half. Cincinnati ground UCLA’s up-tempo offense to a halt in the first half, but the Bruins got going behind the playmaking ability of Ball.

UCLA won and put on a show again. Another big winner is CBS. UCLA is the most exciting team in basketball, sometimes off the court as well.

The most entertaining show in college basketball — on and off the court — will continue for at least another week after the third-seeded Bruins ran away from No. 6 seed Cincinnati 79-67 on Sunday. Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford, T.J. Leaf and company put on an offensive clinic in the second half, shooting 63 percent and averaging 1.49 points per possession, which, if you’re not versed in that stat, is considered to be stratospherically high.

“I don’t know of a more fun basketball team to watch when we’re clicking — and we’ve had a lot of games where we’re clicking,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said Sunday night.

All the while, though, speculation continues to build that Alford himself will soon be returning to Bloomington, Indiana, home of his alma mater, which is currently in the market for a coach. Some in the business think it’s already a done deal.

So there’s that subplot. There’s also LaVar Ball. Lonzo’s relentlessly hyperbolic and self-promoting father has engendered so much animosity in recent weeks he’s driven Turner Sports analyst Charles Barkley to start donning UCLA opponents’ jerseys on air.

I just want the show to keep on going for four more games.

Go Bruins!