The UCLA Bruins' offensive machine is a thing of beauty when operating at full capacity, which the Cincinnati Bearcats found out the hard way Sunday.
Cincinnati's defense set the tone for extended stretches and had a 47-46 lead with 14 minutes remaining before Lonzo Ball went into hyperdrive and spearheaded a 79-67 victory. As a result, the No. 3 seed Bruins advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years, while the No. 6 seed Bearcats saw their impressive 30-win season come to an end.
Ball led the 33-20 run to end the game and 49-point second half with with 18 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and just one turnover behind 7-of-10 shooting from the field. ESPN Stats & Info noted he came through with the game on the line:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Lonzo Ball: 0 assists in 1st half ... 9 assists in 2nd half2017-3-20 03:44:39
He also caught the attention of NBA star Dwyane Wade in the process:
This Ball kid is pretty darn good!!!2017-3-20 03:35:00
The crispness of UCLA's offense led to a mere three turnovers for the entire team and all five starters scoring in double figures against a Cincinnati defense that is among the nation's best.
|UCLA's Starters in Sunday's Game|
Jarron Cumberland led Cincinnati with 15 points but didn't have enough firepower to top Ball.
The clash of styles was apparent from the opening tip. According to KenPom.com's pace-adjusted numbers, UCLA boasts the second-best offense and plays at the 13th-fastest tempo in the country, while Cincinnati has the 10th-ranked defense and 327th-fastest tempo.
Cincinnati controlled the ever-important tempo battle in the first half, as Bill Koch of the team's official website described:
Bill Koch @bkoch
#bearcats Still no fast break points in the game, which is just the way UC wants it.2017-3-20 02:19:46
The Bearcats built a 33-30 halftime advantage, and Matt Cummings of the Daily Bruin noted it was UCLA's worst-scoring half of the season. Only eight costly turnovers prevented the Bearcats from creating substantial separation, but they made up for it by holding the Bruins to 4-of-14 shooting from deep.
Even a defense as daunting as Cincinnati's can only contain an offense like the Bruins' for so long, and the Pac-12 representative increased the tempo out of the locker rooms and started draining threes.
Ball and Bryce Alford hit from deep on three straight possessions, quickly turning a deficit into a 55-47 lead. More importantly, it was the first time all game UCLA dictated style, and the Bearcats couldn't keep up.
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The Ball show continued, and he consistently blew past Cincinnati defenders in the open floor and found teammates for easy looks as the Bruins extended their advantage to double digits.
His NBA-level talent and ability to calmly operate in surrounding chaos was something the Bearcats couldn't match. Lance McAlister of 700 WLW compared the Bruins to the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, and Bryan Fischer of College Football Talk summarized UCLA's outing:
Bryan Fischer @BryanDFischer
I find UCLA is mostly disinterested in games but for about 15 minutes in every game, they look like the Warriors. Like during this stretch2017-3-20 03:27:13
All the cliche words like gritty and mental toughness applied to Cincinnati for just staying within striking distance down the stretch, but UCLA was in full control for the final few minutes. The Bearcats never truly threatened after a TJ Leaf dunk pushed the lead to double digits again with just more than three minutes remaining.
UCLA will play Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in a showdown of two of the sport's biggest brand names.
The two teams have combined for 35 Final Fours and 19 national championships and feature plenty of superstars such as Ball, Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox. If college basketball history is any indication, their upcoming matchup promises to be one of the most memorable of the entire tournament.
March Madness TV shared Ball's postgame comments:
March Madness TV @MarchMadnessTV
"It's just winning time..." - @ROSGO21 with @UCLAMBB's Lonzo Ball after advancing to the #Sweet16 #MarchMadness https://t.co/wJoovPfGPB2017-3-20 03:49:03
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin discussed the Bruins, per Cummings: "They're probably the best offensive team to play college basketball in a long, long time."
UCLA head coach Steve Alford echoed those sentiments, per Cummings: "I don't know of a more fun basketball team to watch when we're clicking."
Alford also compared the upcoming clash against Kentucky with their regular-season meeting the Bruins won, per Cummings: "They're better than they were when we played in December. And I think we're better than we were."