UCLA to head to Sweet 16 after defeating Cincinnati 79-67

SACRAMENTO — Bryce Alford called it.

“Trying to slow it down sometimes works on us for a little while,” the senior guard said Saturday regarding UCLA’s matchup with Cincinnati. “But I feel like at some point, we start to get stops and then we can run. In the second half of games, we always go on a run at some point.”

That’s exactly what happened Sunday. The No. 3 seed Bruins shook off their lowest-scoring first half of the season to defeat the No. 6 seed Bearcats 79-67, advancing to the Sweet 16 thanks to a scalding offensive performance in the second half.

UCLA, which will next face No. 2 seed Kentucky on Friday, made seven 3-pointers and shot 63.3 percent from the field in the second half after putting up just 30 points in the opening period.

Freshman point guard Lonzo Ball led the way, finishing with 18 points, nine assists – all in the second half – and seven rebounds. He and Alford drilled three 3-pointers each after halftime, and freshman forward T.J. Leaf rebounded from a scoreless first half to add 11 second-half points.

“That’s been our biggest thing all year – I’ve never felt panic in this locker room,” Alford said after the win. “We’re so confident that at some point, we’re going to wear a team down and do what we do.”

It didn’t take long in the second half for the Bruins to do what they do. They came out of the locker room more active on offense than they had been at any point in the first half.

Alford drilled a 3-pointer within the first 20 seconds of the half. Two possessions later, he found Ball for an open 3-point look, but Ball instead faked the shot and rifled a pass to Leaf for an easy dunk.

It was the first assist of the night for Ball, who would end up with nine, and the first basket of the game for Leaf, who shot 0-for-5 in the first half.

UCLA then began to accelerate, with defense and rebounding spurring its dangerous fast-break game.

The Bearcats misfired on the possession after Leaf’s dunk, and senior guard Isaac Hamilton pushed the ball up-court in transition. He missed on a floater, but 7-foot junior center Thomas Welsh was there to slam home a put-back dunk.

After another Cincinnati miss, Ball tossed a pass ahead to Hamilton, who set his feet in the corner and drilled a 3-pointer.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin quickly called a timeout, but UCLA had already taken the lead and grabbed control of the game.

The Bruins held the Bearcats to just 41.2 percent shooting in the latter period.

“I thought our defense was the key to the second half,” said UCLA coach Steve Alford. “When we get stops, we’re a whole different type of offensive team. It takes us to another level.”

That was quite apparent to Cronin, whose team gave up far more than the 61.3 points per game they allowed on average this season.

“They’re probably the best offensive team to play college basketball in a long, long time,” Cronin said. “They’ve got a chance to win the whole thing.”

Freshman guard Lonzo Ball led the Bruins with 18 points and added on nine assists. His 3-pointers helped lead the team in the second half. (Jintak Han/Assistant Photo editor)

Has Indiana Offered UCLA’s Steve Alford a 7-yr/$31M Contract?

I’ll admit it. Ever since the news broke about Indiana firing Tom Crean the other day, I’ve been waiting for the official news that Steve Alford is leaving UCLA. Heck, the other day I wrote about how the end of the Steve Alford era may finally be in sight.

Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much more news about this until after UCLA is finished in the tournament.

But, I don’t control the news cycle and that’s why today there’s a report that says that Indiana has offered Steve Alford a 7-year, $31 million contract.

Apparently, that tweet was ambiguous enough to leave people wondering whether the offer was from Indiana or UCLA. So, Schultz sent out another tweet.

That’s an average of about $4.4 million per year. That’s substantially more than the $2.6 million per year that UCLA is currently paying Alford. It’s a 70% raise.

There are other reports that IU’s deal with Alford is done. Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star writes:

The Alford-to-IU noise is so loud, coaches around the country are telling me what they’re hearing: They expect Adidas — IU has a $54 million contract with Adidas through 2024 — to pay Alford’s $7.8 million buyout at UCLA. It too was an Adidas school when UCLA hired Alford in 2013, but the Bruins recently left Adidas for a 15-year, $280 million deal with Under Armour. Adidas would love to return the favor and help Alford leave UCLA. That’s what other coaches are hearing, and telling me.

How hot is Alford’s IU candidacy? So hot that WFNI's Dan Dakich told me in a text message Saturday — with Alford’s third-seeded Bruins preparing to play No. 6 Cincinnati on Sunday — that “the deal (with) Alford is done.” Dakich and Alford played together at IU. Another coincidence, maybe.
So, let me get this straight. According to this report, Adidas is about to get suckered into paying UCLA another $7.8 million to take our basketball coach of questionable moral character who has never made it past the Sweet 16 off our hands?

Now, this is an Adidas check that Dan Guerrero should send Tyus Edney to cash!

But, note, the fact that Rabjohns simply states that Schultz’s report isn’t accurate, but he doesn’t say that Indiana has not offered Alford a contract. So the question is, if it’s not accurate, exactly what isn’t accurate?

How convinced are people that Alford is leaving Westwood? They are so convinced that stories are starting to pop up about who UCLA should hire to replace Alford. The Big Lead is one site with an article like that, but really only two names on their list even merit consideration by Dan Guerrero. One is Gregg Marshall and the other is Bryce Drew.

Marshall probably would have been willing to listen to UCLA when Ben Howland was fired since he has a longstanding policy of listening to whomever wants to speak with him, but Dan Guerrero wanted to save on plane fare or had some other urgent reason for wanting to speak with Marshall while his team was still playing in the 2013 NCAA Tournament but Marshall wouldn’t do it. He declined to talk with UCLA until after Wichita State’s season was done. Guerrero wouldn’t wait and Alford was hired.

Thanks to Kentucky, that issue doesn’t exist this time around and Dan should either be on a plane to Wichita tomorrow or Marshall should be on a plane to LA.

As for Bryce Drew, I heard rumors last year that Drew was interested in coming to UCLA if Guerrero had fired Alford last year and that he viewed UCLA as a destination school, not a springboard. Ultimately, he accepted the Vanderbilt job after it was clear that Alford wasn’t leaving Westwood. While Bryce has never made it deep in the tournament, he also has just six years head coaching experience, which puts him into the category of up-and-coming coaches.

But, Tommy Amaker? He’s another guy who’s never made it farther than the Sweet 16 in 20 years of coaching.

Archie Miller? Nope. His brother disqualifies him.

Kevin Ollie does have one national title at UCONN, but his teams have been mediocre at best since. We’ll pass.

Randy Bennett of St. Mary’s is intriguing, but he’s never made it to even the Sweet 16 with the Gaels. Now, that could be because he’s coaching a West Coast Conference team, but so is Mark Few.

Speaking of Few, there’s someone Guerrero should meet with. In 18 seasons at Gonzaga, he’s NEVER missed the NCAA Tournament. He’s made the Elite Eight once. Surely, with the talent UCLA attracts he could get that National Championship he’s missed in Spokane.

Then, there’s Bryce Drew’s brother Scott who is currently at Baylor. He’s made the Elite Eight twice at Baylor and consistently has his teams in the tournament and would make an excellent choice in addition to Marshall, Few, and his brother Bryce.

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