SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- If this is indeed the road to the Final Four for UCLA, the Bruins will look back on their Sunday game as the one they had to find a way to win before they could challenge college basketball's bluebloods for the national championship.
Lonzo Ball posted 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds to help third-seeded UCLA advance to the Sweet 16 with a 79-67 victory over sixth-seeded Cincinnati in a South Regional game at the Golden 1 Center.
The Bruins will face second-seeded Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday in Memphis, Tenn. UCLA, which beat the Wildcats earlier this season at Rupp Arena, could face North Carolina in the Elite Eight and Kansas in the Final Four.
Bryce Alford broke out of his shooting slump to score 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting with four 3-pointers for UCLA (31-4). Alford was 10 of 40 from the field in the team's last four games. TJ Leaf and Thomas Welsh posted 11 points and seven rebounds apiece and Isaac Hamilton added 10 points.
Jarron Cumberland led Cincinnati (30-6) with 15 points, while Kevin Johnson and Jacob Evans scored 13 points apiece. Gary Clark had 11 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Going into the game, UCLA led the nation in scoring at 90.6 points per contest. Cincinnati ranked fourth in scoring defense, holding opponents to 60.8 points.
The Bruins knew the Bearcats would be bigger, stronger and tougher than the Kent State squad that outrebounded them in the opening round. The Bearcats knew the Bruins would put the pedal to the floor and try to push the pace.
The tempo worked to UCLA's advantage as the Bruins outscored the Bearcats 8-2 over the first 2:08, but Cincinnati settled in, took its time at the offensive end and effectively slowed the game down. Johnson made two 3-pointers as part of an 8-0 run that gave the Bearcats a 14-8 lead.
Cincinnati went up 19-13 on a jumper by Cumberland, but UCLA battled back to take a 27-26 lead on a 3-pointer by Ball. The Bearcats reclaimed the lead moments later and carried a 33-30 advantage into the halftime break.
The Bruins picked up the pace early in the second period, starting the half with a 10-3 run to take a 40-36 lead on a 3-pointer by Isaac Hamilton. Evans converted a three-point play to put the Bearcats back on top, but the lead wouldn't last long.
Ball drained back-to-back 3-pointers and Alford added another, fueling a 9-0 run that put UCLA ahead 55-47 with 12:30 remaining. The Bruins went up by 10 on a transition dunk by Ike Anigbogu and extended their lead to 12 on a layup by Ball.
The Bearcats got within seven on a basket by Cumberland with 4:28 to go, but two dunks by Leaf pushed the lead back to double digits and started the celebration for UCLA.
NOTES: UCLA freshman PG Lonzo Ball was named a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year Award on Sunday along with Frank Mason III of Kansas, Villanova's Josh Hart and Purdue's Caleb Swanigan. ... Freshman F Ike Anigbogu returned after missing UCLA's first-round game with a sprained foot, an injury he suffered in practice Tuesday. ... In Saturday's media session, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said UCLA freshman PG Lonzo Ball is "probably the best passer since Jason Kidd or Magic Johnson," adding that Ball is "going to be an NBA All-Star." ... Cincinnati was 13-0 this season when shooting 50 percent or better. The Bearcats shot 44.8 percent Sunday.