SACRAMENTO, Calif. — TJ Leaf scored 23 points, Thomas Welsh added 16 and UCLA pulled away late for a 97-80 victory over scrappy Kent State on Friday night in the NCAA Tournament South Region.
UCLA (30-4) jumped out to a 14-point lead in the opening minutes, only to have its defensive issues rise up again. The third-seeded Bruins had numerous breakdowns and let Kent State claw back into it by halftime, eventually stretching the lead midway through the second half.
Lonzo Ball and Aaron Holiday each had 15 points for UCLA, which will face No. 6 seed Cincinnati in the second round on Sunday.
Kent State (22-14) appeared shell-shocked in its first NCAA Tournament since 2008, falling into a deep early hole. The Golden Flashes, who beat the top three seeds in the MAC Tournament, showed a bit of resiliency by fighting back, keeping the mighty Bruins close until late.
Jaylin Walker had 23 points and Jimmy Hall Jr. added 20 for Kent State.
On a day of upsets in the NCAA Tournament — namely over No. 6 seeds — Kent State was hoping to pull off the biggest one of the tournament. The Golden Flashes know a bit about NCAA upsets; this is the 15th anniversary of the 2002 Kent State team that reached the Elite Eight.
The Bruins appeared as if they weren’t going to give them much of a shot, dominating at both ends.
UCLA held Kent State to 1-of-11 shooting to open and raced out to a 16-2 lead behind Ball and Leaf.
Ball had 10 points in the first 10 minutes and Leaf had 16 by halftime as the Bruins stretched the lead to 17.
Once the Golden Flashes found their bearings, they started to fight back, whittling away at UCLA’s lead.
By the time halftime arrived, they were back within striking distance, down 47-39.
The Golden Flashes continued their momentum surge to start the half, trimming the lead to four on Jalen Avery’s 3-pointer.
UCLA began to wear them down midway through the half, pushing the lead into double digits and stretching it from there.
UCLA will face No. 6 seed Cincinnati in the second round on Sunday.