UCLA (30-4) was able to outlast a scrappy and hustling Kent State (22-14) that gave the Bruins all they could handle for most of the game. The Golden Flashes whittled the lead down to four 54-50 with 16:04 in the second stanza when the Bruin offense took control of the game and hit 12 straight shots before finally missing one late in the game to win going away 97-80.
“Really pleased with our guys,” UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford said. “I thought we had a really good effort and were obviously very efficient offensively. At times, we were pretty good defensively, but we had some lapses”
“Kent State is a very good team and that first one is always the hardest. You get to figure out what the tournament is all about. Everybody is fighting for their life. Everybody knows there’s no tomorrow, if you don’t win the game.”
“Kent State puts a lot of pressure on you. They came in here very hot and I thought they did a lot of good things, it was a battle. When you look across the country, these games are just battles. They are hard. I thought our guys really battled and took Kent State’s best shot. I would like to congratulate Kent State, they had an outstanding season. They were a great challenge tonight and think our guys did a very good job meeting that challenge.”
After a cold shooting performance against Arizona, the Bruins were their usual productive selves on offense shooting 62.7 percent from the floor. UCLA shot 16 percent from three, against Arizona and bounced back to hit 50 percent from beyond the arc against Kent State.
If there was point of concern it was rebounding. Kent State out rebounded the Bruins 36-33, but the Golden Flashes had 15 offensive boards to UCLA’s six. Alford pointed out that Kent State missed 40 shots, so they had a lot more opportunity to get offensive rebounds.
Alford also noted that, he and is coaching staff will look at the film to see if there is anything they can do to shore up UCLA’s defensive rebounding.
As usual, the Bruins had five players score in double figures led by freshman forward, TJ Leaf, who scored and tied for a game high 23 points. Kent State’s talented sophomore guard, Jalen Walker also scored 23.
Junior center, Thomas Welsh scored 16 points and had a team high eight boards. Freshman point guard Lonzo Ball scored 15 points, had six rebounds and three assists. Sophomore guard, Aaron Holiday had a double-double scoring 15 points and had a game high 11 assists. Senior guard Isaac Hamilton scored 14 points and chipped in six boards.
Junior forward, GG Golomon played 17 solid minutes in absence of freshman big Ike Anigbogu, who missed the game due to an injury suffered during Tuesday’s practice. Golomon scored 8 points, had boards, two blocked shots and a steal.
Games will get even tougher from here on out. The Bruins will tipoff against six seed Cincinnati, Sunday Evening approximately 6:20PM PST. The game will be nationally televised on TBS and will be broadcast on UCLA’s flagship radio station, AM 570.