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March Madness: No. 3 UCLA Pulls Away Late, Defeats No. 14 Kent State 97-80

Kent State forward Jimmy Hall is defended by UCLA center Thomas Welsh at Golden 1 Center during the First Round of the NCAA Tournament on March 17, 2017. PA photo art by T. Ray Harvey.


The No. 3 UCLA Bruins move on to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament after beating a scrappy No. 14 Kent State 97-80 at Golden 1 Center.

Freshman T.J. Leaf had 23 points, six rebounds, and two assists for UCLA (30-4, 15-3 Pac-12) and sophomore point guard Aaron Holiday added 15 points and 11 assists off the bench. Thomas Welsh contributed 16 points, eight rebounds. Lonzo Ball, despite a hard fall to the floor in the first half, scored 15 points.

“Kent State puts a lot of pressure on you. I thought they did a lot of good things,” said UCLA head coach Steve Alford. “They had an outstanding season, and they were a great challenge tonight.”

Jimmy Hall was a great challenge for the Bruins himself. The senior for Kent State put up 20 points and 15 rebounds, five on the offensive end. Jaylin Walker led the Golden Flashes (22-14, 10-8 MAC) with 23 points, six rebounds, and made five 3-point shots. But after the game, the discussion led to Walker.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Leaf said of Walker. “He was tough to play against, but at the end of the day all we care about is getting the win and we did that tonight. Kudos to him because he’s a heck of a player and they are a very good team.”

UCLA's T.J. Leaf, left, Lonzo Ball, center, and head coach Steve Alford after the Bruins beat Kent State at Golden 1 Center during the First Round of the NCAA Tournament on March 17, 2017. PA photo art by T. Ray Harvey.

UCLA raced out to a 20-5 lead against the Golden Flashes. Kent State was down by 16, but was able to make a run and trailed 47-39 at the half. The Bruins made 20 of 33 shots from the floor at 60.6 percent in the first half.

Leaf had 16 points and Ball had 10 points, two rebounds, and two assists in the first half for the Bruins, who also made 4 of 9 shots behind the arc for 44.4 percent. UCLA only played seven players in the first 20 minutes.

Walker led the way for the Golden Flashes with 12 points while Hall and Zabo had 10 points each. Kent State held the rebounding edge in the first half by grabbing 23 boards to UCLA’s 20.

In the second half, the Bruins found out that the Golden Flashes were not going anywhere when Walker made a 25-foot shot to cut UCLA’s lead 54-50 with 16:17 remaining in the game. Alford called a timeout to regroup his troops and they responded with a 13-5 run.

UCLA continued to control the game with it offense to pull away late in the game, though the Bruins’ defense and rebounding was suspect at times. Kent State was a lower seed, but they showed UCLA that they belonged in the tournament.

“I couldn’t be prouder of their effort,” said Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff. “We started out 20-5, but with 16 minutes to go in the game it’s a four-point game. As you can see in the tournament there’s a lot of games that turn out to be 20 to 30-point games when it starts out that way. What you saw in terms of how hard we played is what our program is about.”

UCLA is going to have to be a bit sharper in both categories, defending and rebounding, against the Cincinnati Bearcats (30-5, 16-2 American) on Sunday, March 19.

The No. 11 Bearcats knocked the No. 6 seed Kansas State Wildcats out of the tournament with a 75-61 victory. The Bearcats made 27 of 43 shots at 62.percent from the field and never allowed Kansas State to lead at any point of the game let alone threaten it.

The Bearcats are 13-0 this season when shot 50 percent or better.

“I haven’t spent time on them because of our prep for K-State,” Alford said of Cincinnati. “That will happen tonight and tomorrow. I have a lot of respect for (coach) Mick (Cronin), They have been consistent like we have.”

By T. Ray Harvey | PA Public Information Officer and Photographic Artist

Twitter: Tony Ray Harvey @PublicityAgents


* Session 1 at Golden 1 Center had an attendance of 15,833 for the first four teams that played in Round 1

* Session 2 at G1C attendance was 16,514, which is a great showing for Sacramento since the NCAA Men's Tournment returned to the city since 2007. .

T. Ray (Antonio) Harvey is a Public Information Officer and Photographic Artist for Publicity Agents. Harvey is also the author of The HOMICIDAL HANDYMAN OF OAK PARK: MORRIS SOLOMON JR.

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