(AP Photo | Steve Yeater)
For the third time in the history of the tournament, a 30-win non-power team had to face a 30–win Power 5 team in the second round. UCLA has won 31 games and counting this year, and now we know why. The Bruins are a really good team and the Bearcats ran into a flamethrower in the second round. In a year that will be remember for terrible seeding, that’s what happens. The Bearcats hung in there, but didn’t have enough fire. Here’s what happened:
- The first half was (nearly) perfect. The ‘Cats entered the break with a 3-point lead despite an uncharacteristic eight turnovers. They made shots, they played stellar defense, and they dictated the pace. They forced UCLA to play Bearcat basketball and they beat them at it. For 20 minutes, the Bearcats looked like the better team. The Bruins were held to their season-low in first half points. It was a tall task, but a simple one: All they had to do was duplicate it in the second half.
- Kevin Johnson was magnificent, especially in the first half. I couldn’t be happier for him. In his final game as a Bearcat, the senior lit up UCLA in the first half for 11 consecutive points on 4-for-5 shooting. The whole team seemed antsy to start the game tight, but KJ was hot, s0 they fed him. It was fantastic.
- Jarron Cumberland pulled a Jacob Evans. The freshman got hot in the tournament like Evans did last year, finishing with a team-high 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting. By the end of the game, the starters where winded and demoralizing. Cumberland single-handedly extended UC’s chance of victory by a few minutes. (He also likely killed their chance at victory when he rimmed out an ill-advised three-pointer. He’s still a freshman.)
- Gary Clark and Jacob Evans did what they had to do. Jake tossed in 13 points (including some well-timed baskets) and five rebounds. Gary had another one of his patented under-the-radar performances. He scored 11 points but had two more rebounds than anybody else in red and black and five more assists than any other Bearcat. He was a problem.
- They played a good game. I mean that. They held the nation’s #1 offense to 11 points below their season average and shot 45% themselves. I say this before every big one, but I either wanted to win or to leave the game feeling like the ‘Cats got beat by the better team. Unfortunately, it was the latter on Sunday night. There were no 2015–16 heartbreak shenanigans, the Bearcats played well but faced a team that could play better. It really sucks, but it happens.
- Damn, UCLA is good. Did I say that already? The Bearcats kept them in a bottle for the first half. They scored a season-low 30 points and shot just 38%. In the second half, they were determined to turn up the heat and cook the Bearcats. It worked. They shot a blistering 63% after the break and buried the Bearcats right out of the gate. UC kept it interesting for the bulk of the second half, but the Bruins had taken the lead for good with 14:29 remaining. They showed there was a reason they had been ranked in the AP Poll Top 5 for more than half of the season.
- Troy couldn’t quite get it going. After a masterful performance against Kansas State, the senior couldn’t quite turn it on against UCLA. He made a couple important baskets, but didn’t contribute much else on the offensive end. He finished with nine points on 3-for-11 shooting along with five rebounds. Unfortunately, he recorded just one assist while coughing up four turnovers. That’s not what we’ve seen from Troy all year and it came in his Bearcat finale.
- Kyle Washington was dreadful. Kyle’s performances tell you a lot about how important he is to this team. When he’s playing well, the Bearcats are really hard to beat. When he shoots below 40%, the Bearcats are 5–4. On Sunday, he shot 2-for-10 for just four points. He got exploited on the defensive end, which we saw coming against a team like UCLA. Unfortunately, he exploited himself on the offensive end. He took some bad shots and others simply weren’t falling. I’m glad we have Kyle coming back next year, but I know this game will sting for him.
- I have to let go of this team. I’m not ready to do that. Obviously I love every UC team, but this year has been different. Not only is this bunch simply special in its chemistry, but I’ve followed them more closely than I ever have in order to write about them. More than any prior season, I put deep thought into these kids and how they played together. The more I looked, the more I liked them. I’m not ready to see it end. I want to write about these kids for another 36 games.
I wanted to extend a special thank you to Matt Allaire of RT_Ohio and Flyer Faithful fame. He jumped on board last night to help churn out GIFs on Twitter while I nervously offered half-baked analysis. It ended up being a big hit. If you guys are nice, maybe we can get him back on board for big games every once in a while.
That wraps it up for in-season basketball coverage for me. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along this year. I’ll have a few more basketball pieces coming this week before I transition into off-season coverage. Thanks for reading. Go Bearcats.