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Lonzo Ball and UCLA kick it into gear in second half to beat Cincinnati, 79-67

Los Angeles Times — By Ben Bolch Los Angeles Times

March 20-- SACRAMENTO, Calif.-The celebrating started with just less than three minutes to play, Bryce Alford holding his hands high and wriggling his fingers to coax cheers from roaring UCLA fans.

The Bruins are headed back to the NCAA tournament's second weekend.

It took some gutsy play from Alford and teammate TJ Leaf, who shrugged off a horrid first half to help power third-seeded UCLA to a 79-67 victory over sixth-seeded Cincinnati in an NCAA tournament second-round game Sunday evening at the Golden 1 Center.

Alford and Leaf combined for 24 of their 27 points in the second half and got plenty of help from teammate Lonzo Ball, who finished with 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in 38 minutes.

UCLA (31-4) advances to play second-seeded Kentucky in a South Regional semifinal on Friday at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., the Bruins' third trip that far in the NCAA tournament in four seasons under coach Steve Alford.

The Bruins finally found their outside touch in the second half, making three consecutive three-pointers-two by Ball and one by Bryce Alford-to take a 55-47 lead with 12:25 left. UCLA continued to add to its advantage after a nice sequence by reserve forward Ike Anigbogu, who blocked Gary Clark's shot and then dunked in transition off a pass from Ball.

A driving layup from Ball put the Bruins ahead, 64-52. The outcome was secured after Bryce Alford drove into the lane and passed to Leaf for a dunk that pushed UCLA's lead to 74-63, forcing Cincinnati (30-6) to call a timeout with 2:59 left.

Alford finished with 16 points on five-for-13 shooting, his second-half surge allowing him to smile after he airballed a step-back three-pointer with 24 seconds left. Leaf finished with 11 points and seven rebounds after going scoreless in the first half and missing all five of his shots.

UCLA started the second half hot, going on a 10-3 push that included three-pointers from Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton as well as a flying put-back dunk from Thomas Welsh to take a 40-36 lead. More importantly, Leaf made his first shot on a two-handed dunk after going scoreless in the first half. He followed it up a few minutes later by powering over two defenders for a layup in which he was fouled.

UCLA struggled to make shots or play the frenzied style it liked in the first half. The Bruins made only 37.5 percent of their shots and 28.6 percent of their three-pointers.

It should have come as no surprise that they also trailed by three points on the scoreboard at the game's midpoint. That put UCLA in a precarious spot considering the Bruins were down at the halftime of all four previous losses this season.

Steve Alford did not like what he saw from his team's offense for stretches in the first half, yelling "move the ball!" after his team ran back in front of him to play defense after another lost possession.

UCLA had trailed by six points when Cincinnati's Jarron Cumberland drove for a layup but surged ahead, 27-26, on Ball's three-pointer. Ball and Welsh led the Bruins in the first half with seven points apiece.

Leaf struggled mightily, picking up two fouls in a matter of seconds and going to the bench with 10:01 left in the first half after having missed his first four shots. He returned with 6:22 left and quickly had a shot blocked by Cincinnati's Gary Clark.

Anigbogu returned after sitting out the Bruins' previous game against Kent State because of a sprained foot. He played the final 2:40 of the first half, scoring three points.

Cumberland finished with 15 points for the Bearcats, who made 44.8 percent of their shots but committed 10 turnovers to the Bruins' three.


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