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Cincinnati Bearcats guard Troy Caupain (10) walks off the court after the 79-67 loss to UCLA during the second-round game of the men's NCAA college basketball tournament between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the UCLA Bruins, Sunday, March 19, 2017, at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. UCLA won 79-67.(Photo: The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar)
SACRAMENTO, Cal. – The UCLA Bruins are the volcano that causes everyone to evacuate the island. You don’t know when they’re going to explode (which makes them even more frightening), only that they will.
Take a bottle of champagne and shake it until your arms feel like falling off. Then open the bottle. That’s UCLA basketball, blowing out of the bottle and onto everything. Their offense is inevitable. No one is spared.
The UC Bearcats tried. Valiantly. Triumphantly, because they’d won 30 games already, and because every college basketball team but one every single year is going to end its season the way the Bearcats ended theirs Sunday night: Heads buried in towels in a locker room quiet enough to hear a season drop.
When you’re playing against inevitability, winning has a slim chance.
“If you’re playing transition defense against (UCLA), it’s only a matter of time,’’ Mick Cronin said. “They’re the best offensive team in college basketball in a long time.’’ One stunning slice of game turned the whole thing around. It was 63 seconds of complete and beautiful fury, a rage ballet that defined both the Bruins and their 79-67 win.
UC played a chalkboard-perfect first half. The idea was for the Bearcats to slow the pace and play patiently and with intelligence on offense. Get good shots, make them. If the shots don’t go in, get fouled. Set the defense. Keep the Bruins transition offense from looking like Secretariat at the Belmont.
That’s what happened in the first half. In retrospect, that was a monumental achievement. UC led 33-30 at halftime. The Bearcats shot 50 percent from the field and made of five of seven free throws.
Forced to operate in the halfcourt, UCLA missed 20 of its 32 field goal tries. Lonzo Ball, the sensational freshman point guard, couldn’t flex his speed and creativity. As UC’s Kyle Washington put it, “We had ‘em right where we wanted ‘em.’’
The problem was, as much as UC’s offense has improved, it’s simply not good enough to play two halves as well as it did the first half Sunday night. Once the shots stopped falling, the Bruins started flying. Then came the frighteningly perfect 63 seconds, between the 13:31 and 12:28 marks of the second half:
Ball drilled a three in transition from the left wing. UC’s Jarron Cumberland missed a three. T.J. Leaf rebounded, got the ball to Ball, who in about three strides was at the top of the key, where he launched another successful three. Kyle Washington then missed a hurried jumper. Another UCLA rebound, another eye-blink run up the floor, another three, this one by Bryce Alford from the right corner.
A 47-46 Bearcats advantage became a 55-47 Bruins lead. Cronin called a tourniquet timeout.
UC beat writer Tom Groeschen and columnist Paul Dehner Jr. break down the Cincinnati Bearcats' 79-67 loss to UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar
UC got no closer than five after that. The 9-0 brilliance got into the Bearcats collective head. Patience went out the window. They needed to score, now. “We wanted to hit that 9-point shot,’’ explained Kevin Johnson. “We should have just grinded it out.’’
The Bearcats had kept the lid on the Bruins Dom Perignon for 27 minutes or so. UCLA scored 30 points in the first 20 minutes. It had 30 more in the next 10.
A word about Lonzo Ball: He is entirely for real. Those of us who need our beauty sleep didn’t see him play this year. We missed out. A crossover dribble that twists toes, a strange, but deadly jumper and, mostly, a feel for the game that’s almost robotic in its flawlessness. The kid had nine assists. In the second half.
He was good enough to turn it on when he had to. He picked his spots to be brilliant, as if showing too much brilliance might spoil us. A media savant asked Ball afterward if his supernova bursts were “something you have worked on over time.’’
“I’ve been playing like that my whole life,’’ he said, deadpan and without a trace of arrogance. What is, is.
The better team won. The team with three future No. 1 NBA draft picks won. Which dents only slightly UC’s second 30-win season in school history. And besmirches Johnson and Troy Caupain, the two senior guards, not at all.
“Kevin and Troy were my hosts when I came here,’’ said junior Gary Clark. Zack (Tobler, the third UC senior) is my fishing buddy. We loved each other, we held each other accountable, on and off the court.’’
The program looks better today than it did this time last year, and that’s what you hope for, right? Toss that bottle of champagne this way. Don’t open it, though. There’s a whole lot of UCLA in it.
Source : http://www.cincinnati.com/story/sports/college/university-of-cincinnati/2017/03/20/doc-valiant-effort-bearcats/99400834/