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UCLA was not winning in style points or on the scoreboard at halftime Sunday evening.
The gritty, grind-it-out way the game was going favored sixth-seeded Cincinnati, which held a 33-30 lead over the third-seeded Bruins at the midpoint of their NCAA tournament second-round game at the Golden 1 Center.
UCLA struggled to make shots or play the frenzied style it liked. The Bruins made only 37.5% of their shots and 28.6% of their three-pointers, with power forward TJ Leaf going scoreless while missing all five shots.
The winner will advance to play second-seeded Kentucky in a South Regional semifinal on Friday at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn. Coach Steve Alford is trying to guide the Bruins to that round for the third time in his four seasons with UCLA.
Alford did not like what he saw from his team’s offense for stretches in the first half, yelling “Move the ball!” after his team ran back in front of him to play defense after another lost possession.
UCLA had trailed by six points when Cincinnati’s Jarron Cumberland drove for a layup but surged ahead, 27-26, on freshman goard Lonzo Ball’s three-pointer. Ball and center Thomas Welsh led the Bruins in the first half with seven points apiece.
Leaf struggled mightily, picking up two fouls in a matter of seconds and going to the bench with 10:01 left in the first half after having missed all four of his shots. He returned with 6:22 left and quickly had a shot blocked by Cincinnati’s Gary Clark.
UCLA reserve forward Ike Anigbogu returned after sitting out the Bruins’ previous game against Kent State because of a sprained foot. He played the final 2:40 of the first half, scoring three points.
Guard Kevin Johnson scored 11 points for the Bearcats, who made 50% of their shots and four of six three-pointers (66.7%). UCLA was still well within striking distance largely because it forced eight turnovers and committed only one.