March 17, 2017
The Bruins collectively held their breath on Friday night in the 1st half when Lonzo Ball fell to the floor holding his hip. Ball was undercut after receiving a lob pass just before halftime. However, after slowly getting up, he stayed in the game. Ball went on to finish the game with 15 points and the Bruins took care of Kent State 97-80 to advance to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.
TJ Leaf scored 23 points and Thomas Welsh added 16, as UCLA pulled away late to get the win in Sacramento. The Bruins jumped out to a 14 point lead in the opening minutes, but Kent State would battle their way back against a UCLA team that didn’t seem very interested in playing defense again.
Despite a 16-2 run in the 1st half, Kent State was only down 47-39 at the half. The Golden Flashes would get as close as four points in the 2nd half after a 3-pointer by Jalen Avery. Jaylin Walker led Kent State with 23 points and Jimmy Hall Jr scored 20 for the Golden Flashes.
However, midway through the 2nd half, UCLA would put the lead back to double-digits. “We kinda let up,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said. “Our shot selection was worse. We didn’t defend. There is a poise to what you want to do offensively, but you’ve got to have poise defensively too. I didn’t think we did that as well in the first half as a team.”
Had Ball been seriously hurt, the Bruins hope for NCAA tournament run would have been crushed. Fortunately, he avoided major injury. “I’m fine,” said Ball. “Finished the game, got up. I’m good.”
UCLA finally found its shooting stroke after last week’s struggles in the conference tournament. The Bruins shot 62% from the field and 50% from the 3-point line.
The Bruins will need to keep that shooting stroke going against a gritty Cincinnati team on Sunday in the round of 32.