SACRAMENTO — If experience matters during March Madness, it didn’t appear that way in the first half of UCLA’s opening-round game against Kent State on Friday night.
The Bruins’ star freshmen, point guard Lonzo Ball and forward T.J. Leaf, quickly asserted themselves in their first NCAA Tournament game, combining for 26 points as No. 3 seeded UCLA (29-4) built a 47-38 halftime lead.
Ball jump-started the attack, pushing the pace in transition and scoring 10 points in the first 10 minutes. He found his offense in a variety of ways, first drilling a mid-range jumper and a 3-pointer before adding an alley-oop and a nifty and-one layup.
Leaf produced 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, his most memorable play coming on a powerful dunk in transition in which he cocked the ball back behind his head and slammed it home with authority.
UCLA shot 60.6 percent for the half while holding Kent State to just 37.5 percent. The Golden Flashes stayed in the game, though, by grabbing 10 offensive rebounds.
The Bruins started out on a tear, at one point leading 20-5 a little less than seven minutes into the action. But they would slow down throughout the half, not scoring over the final two minutes as the Golden Flashes trimmed the lead to single digits.
In a scary moment for the Bruins, Ball tumbled to the floor while trying to haul in another alley-oop pass late in the half. He came up holding the area near his right hip, though he remained in the game for the final minute.