Before a season-high crowd of 10,018 fans at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon, miscues on offense and a flurry of turnovers led to the UCLA Bruins 77-63 loss to No. 25 Cincinnati Bearcats.
A young, inexperienced UCLA team faced potentially their toughest defensive opponent to date in Cincinnati and folded. The Bruins committed 15 turnovers in the first half. The turnovers came in many forms. UCLA’s Aaron Holiday lobbed a pass to center Thomas Welsh in the post that was intercepted.
“I turned the ball over trying to throw it in the post and then everybody else started turning it over,” said Holiday.
Welsh went 17 minutes before getting his first shot attempt. A 3-pointer that was blocked. He made only two of his seven shots. One attempt being a baseline jumper that he airballed.
“Whenever you see Tom shoot an airball, you know he’s rushing things,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said.
“We just have to figure it out,” added Holiday, who had a team-high 17 points with four turnovers and three assists. The junior guard has had to shoulder the majority of the load, as one of the oldest players on the team this season.
The Bearcats capitalized on the flood of turnovers to end the first half. A 20-5 scoring run for the Bearcats led to a 36-23 halftime deficit for the Bruins. In the second half, the Bruins took better care of the ball, significantly reducing the amount of turnovers to three. Despite their corrected efforts, the Bruins were unable to eradicate the deficit going minutes without scoring.
Cincinnati’s Kyle Washington scored a game-high 19 points while his teammate Jacob Evans added 16 points for the Bearcats.
For the Bruins, freshman Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes were the only two other players to reach double figures. One bright spot the Bruins can hang their hats on is having matched Cincinnati in rebounding with each team tallying 35.
“If we could take back the second half of Michigan and the first half here against Cincinnati in the area of turnovers,” Alford remarked, “I think we’d be sitting in a different position.”
This is UCLA’s second consecutive loss after falling to Michigan in overtime on the road, 78-69. Over the span of the past two games, UCLA is averaging 19 turnovers. Cincinnati was able to convert UCLA’s 18 turnovers into 23 points.
Though the Bruins have made no excuses for their losses, coach Alford acknowledged the challenge of losing three players right before the season. LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill remain suspended indefinitely due to the shoplifting incident last month in China.
“You went from one day having 11 in the rotation to eight,” Alford said. “It doesn’t happen a lot in college basketball and I think in this group, I can’t thank them enough. I think they’ve handled things extremely well, when you look at the travel, and the distractions, they’re competing, they’re working, they’re just trying to figure some things out and I think as they get a little bit more mature in this process, their play will emulate that.
Ball, the brother of former UCLA star Lonzo Ball has since withdrawn from UCLA. He was featured on the ticket stub for UCLA’s matchup against Cincinnati, an uninvited reminder of just how shorthanded the Bruins really are. As for the other two players, Riley and Hill, UCLA is expected to hear soon about the fate of their future.
The Bruins have two more games including a marquee matchup against Kentucky before Pac-12 Conference play starts. It is no secret that the return of Riley and Hill to the lineup would lighten the load for the current eight-man roster. Holiday is confident that with or without those players, the team will be okay.
“We’re a great team,” Holiday said. “We haven’t shown it yet obviously, but we’re going to be a great team.”