I Kent, I Kent, I Kent Stand Losing — With Anigbogu a no-go and Bryce a no-show (fo’ fo’ in a row), it’s up to Lo to survive a low bridge and lead the Bruins past a valiant 13th-seeded Kent St. with a late-but-perfect 12-for-12 12-minute run to finally pull away from the Golden Flashes, 97-80; Leaf, Holiday, and Welsh take turns helping Ball take out the Flash
Finally, March Madness has arrived for UCLA. If you are a typical sports fan, you understand why The Big Dance is included when I think about “a few of MY FAVORITE THINGS…”
Boys in white jerseys with blue Golden Flashes
Ball aches but stays on the court when he crashes
Holiday, Leaf and Welsh playing like kings
These are a few of my favorite things
When the Bryce bites
When Ball’s hip stings
When we’re playing bad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so sad
The Hills (of Westwood) are alive, with the sound of advancing. It wasn’t as easy as expected, but 3-seed UCLA finally climbed every mountain, and escaped to the alps and said So Long, Farewell, with a 97-80 victory over the Golden Flashes. It was truly out of the Kent-a-bury Fails, as the Bruins couldn’t bury Kent St. early, despite charging out to a 20-5 lead. Kent St. was obviously intimidated by their Tournament invitation, and by the four letters on the front of the Bruins’ jerseys. That fear was manifested by early-game jitters and an inability to find the hoop. Led by Lonzo Ball’s 10 early Points and T.J. Leaf’s dominance (he got 16 of his game-high 23 points in the first half), UCLA looked like they were going to cruise. Even without Freshman big man Ike Anigbogu, who was ruled out with a Sprained Foot, the Bruins were a stratosphere above this opponent… or so it seemed.
With Ike unavailable, Center Thomas Welsh was tentative, afraid to get in foul trouble. That allowed Kent St. to crash the boards, and get back into the game, The Golden Flashes had three players score 18 or more, with star Jimmy Hall giving the Bruins all sorts of trouble inside. Despite being foul-conscious, Welsh and Leaf each picked up a few, and that helped open the door for Kent St. After the Bruins opened up a 16-point lead at 31-15, and still led by 15 with 4 minutes to go until halftime, the Flashes made a courageous run, cutting the lead to 8 (47-39) at the break. The Bruins scored only 2 points in those last 3 minutes.
After intermission, Kent St., no longer intimidated, kept it going, Deon Edwin helped them cut the lead to 54-50, but that was as close as they would get. Despite some nifty plays by Kevin Zabo and scoring by Jaylin Walker, the Bruins would not fold. Isaac Hamilton hit the crucial Three that made it 57-50 and turned the momentum around. Hamilton had a decent post-slump game with 14 points, 6 Rebounds, 2 Assists, and a Blocked Shot, but it was Aaron Holiday who started HIS post-slump to really lift the Blue and Gold. Aaron scored 15, all on 2-pointers, mostly on drives into the key. But the key stat of the game was Holiday’s career-high 11 Assists. Lonzo Ball hurt his hip during a fall late in the first half while getting low-bridged during an alley-oop attempt. After that, Ball was still solid (15 points, 4 Boards, 3 Assists, and ZERO Turnovers), but he was not the quintessential superstar that we have all come to know and love. So it was Holiday facilitating, and invigorating the Offense with play after play that kept the Flashes at bay.
With the Bruins a man down, relegated to using only 7 guys, and only 3 bigs, it was imperative that Gyorgy Goloman not hurt the team, and he didn’t. He definitely does not bring the Defensive intimidation that Anigbogu does, but he made up for it with 8 points, 3 Rebounds, 2 Blocks, 2 Assists, 1 Steal, and no Turnovers in 17 minutes. G.G. made all 3 of his shots, as the Bruins shot a blistering 63% from the floor. Ball was 6-7, Welsh was 6-8, and Leaf was 8-12 to lead the way. The Bruins feasted on high-percentage shots, thanks to weak Defense, and great Passing: UCLA had 25 Assists to Kent St.’s 10.
Despite all those good stats, the Bruins were still in a dogfight until a 12-minute stretch in the second half, where they made 12 straight shots, which helped to outscore Kent St. by 20 and push the lead to 24, allowing them to coast to the 17-point final margin.
Next up is 6-seed Cincinnati, who looked very, very good while dispatching a tough Kansas State team. The Bruins would be hard-pressed to beat them without Ike, but rumor has it that Anigbogu WILL be back on Sunday. So the bigger question is: Will Bryce Alford’s game be back? Bryce made only two buckets against Kent St., continuing his miserable 4-game slump. And once again, he was strategically TARGETED on Defense, with his man (whomever he was guarding) burning him during the Kent St. comeback. Despite Bryce’s lackluster play, no one on the team played more minutes than he did. If this scenario repeats itself on Sunday, the Bruins are doubtful to reach the Sweet 16. At least he seemed to realize he was cold, and after 4 forced and badly-missed low-percentage shot attempts, he only launched one more the rest of the game, and HE MADE IT. He has always been a streak shooter, so maybe that make will start a hot streak. But he often struggles away from Pauley Pavilion, so hopefully, if he is OFF again on Sunday, he won’t force more bad shots, and just take what the great Cinci defense gives him. Maybe he now realizes: He doesn’t have to score for UCLA to win, but he can shoot them OUT of a win if he doesn’t relent.
“How Do Solve a Problem Like B. Alford?” “I Have Confidence” that Bryce will have a monster game on Sunday and be the MVP of the next two games, as UCLA is (Sweet) Sixteen, Going on (Elite) Eight, helping Steve Alford to his best Tourney ever. Otherwise, Steve may be escaping the Nasty Party all the way to Indiana.