Rushed Reactions: #3 UCLA 97, #14 Kent State 80Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2017
RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.
- UCLA Will Go As Far as Its Offense Takes It. Note that the title to this blurb doesn’t say defense, which might be the conventional wisdom surrounding the Bruins. No, Steve Alford knows that his team’s defense isn’t going to magically become elite, capable of shutting teams down for long stretches at a time. Lonzo Ball and Aaron Holiday are his only two legitimately decent defenders, and it’s simply too late in the season to change what their teammates can do now. What this means is that if UCLA can continue to put huge numbers on the board — something it is eminently capable of doing, of course — the Bruins will have a very good chance at winning several more games. Kent State is not Kentucky, and certainly defensively-robust Cincinnati will provide a very stiff test on Sunday, but few teams in college basketball can as easily grab a defensive rebound, fire a 50-foot pass upcourt, and quickly convert on the other end. Over and over again. Their half-court game isn’t quite as polished, but it’s certainly effective as well. At the end of the day, UCLA didn’t seem to work very hard in putting together a 97-point, 62.7 percent shooting performance that corresponded to an absurd 1.39 points per possession tonight. So remember this distinction between winning through scoring and winning through defending as the Bruins move forward. They’re only going to win one way.
- Lonzo Ball’s Impact. So much has been written about the precocious freshman’s impact that we’re not going to repeat the same things here, but this was the first time we’d seen him play live and the thing that was most striking about him wasn’t the odd release on his shot or his supernatural court vision. It was how he could seemingly go from fast with the ball to a veritable blur with it for extremely short durations — long enough to beat a defender or create just enough space to get to the rim. Bill Walton talked about this talent during last week’s Pac-12 Tournament, and because he doesn’t look like an elite-level athlete, it seems to come out of nowhere. Looks can be deceiving. Oh, and he had a nice all-around game, with 15 points, four rebounds and three assists to support a 158.0 Offensive Rating.
- Kent State Challenged the Bruins. Kent State showed up in Sacramento and really only looked jittery for the first 10 minutes of the game. Once the Golden Flashes realized that they could actually score on the Bruins, they took it right at them — especially Jimmy Hall (20 points, 15 rebounds) inside. There were a few mini-runs that got Kent State back within a workable margin in the second half, but UCLA had an answer every time that happened. This relates to the first point above — if a team wants to beat UCLA, it’s going to have to be able to knock down shots No cold shooting nights. No missed layups and five-minute droughts. With this UCLA team, a five-point deficit becomes 15 very, very quickly. Kent State simply couldn’t keep up with the Bruins tonight, and nobody would blame the Golden Flashes for that. They acquitted themselves well here as the MAC champion.
Star of the Game. TJ Leaf, UCLA. Leaf put together a strong game of 23 points and six rebounds tonight in a game where there were once again several offensive stars for the Bruins. The wily freshman is one of the unsung heroes for UCLA this season, but he continues to show his value in working around the rim for easy run-stopping buckets.
Sights and Sounds. There was a crowd of over 16,000 in the building for tonight’s games, providing for a fairly raucous crowd throughout the evening. UCLA had the most fans, but it never rose to the level of a Bruins’ home game, with good representation among the other three schools and a fair number of locals supporting the underdogs.
What’s Next. UCLA advances to play a very interesting Cincinnati team on Sunday night for the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in the West Regional in San Jose. Kent State received a rousing ovation from its assembled fans for a season that resulted in an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since 2008.