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Lonzo Ball’s brilliance guides No. 3 UCLA to Sweet 16

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Cincinnati v UCLA

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 19: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins bring the ball up the court against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Golden 1 Center on March 19, 2017 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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Lonzo Ball flirted with a triple-double, but settled for 18 points, nine assists (one turnover) and seven rebounds, guiding No. 3 seed UCLA to the Sweet 16 following a 79-67 victory over No. 6 seed Cincinnati in the second round of the South Region from Sacramento.

The Bearcats led 33-30 at the half. Their defense help UCLA’s explosive offense to 38 percent from the field and 29 percent from three. But the Bruins had strung together some quality possessions before heading into the locker room. That was an omen for things to come for Cincinnati.

Cincinnati had an improved offense to go along with its hard-nosed defense this season. The Bearcats were never going to go shot for shot with the Bruins. Going shot for shot with the bar regular is how you wind up waking up in an alley. Their defense did a commendable job of controlling the pace in the first half, but UCLA’s offense was just too much to contain for 40 minutes. The Bearcats started the half by missing 5-of-6 shots. The Bruins used that to wrestle away the lead and momentum. Cincinnati would counter to take a brief lead, but Ball rattled back-to-back 3-pointers to put the UCLA offense in a second gear.

UCLA put up 49 second half points. Many of which came right at the rim. After not allowing a point in transition, the Bruins got out and running off each Cincinnati miss. Those fast breaks were only made more effective by Cincinnati sending multiple guys to crash the glass.

The Bruins advanced to the third Sweet 16 under head coach Steve Alford. They advance to play No. 2 Kentucky. It’ll be a rematch of the instant classic they had on Dec. 3 in Rupp Arena. UCLA won, 97-92.

The rematch is set for Friday night in Memphis.