CINCINNATI (AP) — UCLA hadn’t been beaten so soundly in nearly four years. That’s how good the Bearcats’ defense was, right from the start.
Jarron Cumberland scored 19 of his 25 points during Cincinnati’s dominant first half, and the Bearcats dominated every phase in a 93-64 rout of the Bruins on Wednesday night.
As usual, this Cincinnati win started with relentless defense.
“A lot of people are surprised by our toughness because our defense is something special,” said Nysier Brooks, who had 14 points. “Nobody knows what it is, but it’s something special.”
Cincinnati (10-2) pulled ahead by 20 in the first half and was never challenged as the Bearcats beat the Bruins (7-4) by double-digits for the second straight season. Keith Williams added a career-high 19 points for Cincinnati, which shot 52.4 percent from the field.
“In fairness, when you shoot the ball like that at home, you’re going to win,” coach Mick Cronin said. “Combined with great defense, you’re going to win easy.”
The Bruins were coming off a 74-72 home loss to Belmont , blowing 12-point lead in the second half. They couldn’t keep up with Cincinnati, which took control with a 23-4 run in the first half and sent UCLA to its most lopsided loss since a 71-39 defeat at Utah on Jan. 4, 2015.
“Tonight, from about eight minutes into the game, defensively we were really poor,” coach Steve Alford said.
Kris Wilkes led the Bruins with 21 points in the first of back-to-back games against Ohio teams. They play Ohio State on Saturday, their final chance for a noteworthy win before getting into Pac-12 play.
“This is a huge road trip for us because we are trying to build a resume, trying to build energy and momentum going into conference play,” Alford said.
Cincinnati was coming off a 70-59 loss at No. 18 Mississippi State that ended the Bearcats’ nine-game winning streak. Their offense was a problem at the end, freezing up with the game on the line. The Bearcats got all the shots they wanted against UCLA, making a season-high 12 from beyond the arc to go with 30 points in the paint.
“This game was definitely like a bounce-back statement for us as a team,” Brooks said.
Brooks had a three-point play and a pair of layups during the 23-4 run that put Cincinnati in control. The Bruins managed only four free throws during the span.
UCLA: The Bruins repeatedly allowed backdoor layups as Belmont overcame the 12-point deficit to pull out the win. Tightening the front-line defense was their priority, and they didn’t do very well as Cincinnati got every type of open shot.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ biggest challenge was matching up to UCLA’s imposing front line. The Bruins rank No. 5 nationally in rebounding with 44.7 per game, and the Bearcats pride themselves on controlling the boards. Cincinnati got the better of it 38-25.
HUGGINS IN THE HOUSE
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins got a standing ovation from the crowd of 12,689 when he was honored at halftime along with the two other Bearcats coaches who led Cincinnati to a Final Four. The families of George Smith and Ed Jucker also were recognized. Huggins coaches 16 seasons at Cincinnati and reached the Final Four in 1992. Huggins won 399 games overall, the most by a Cincinnati basketball coach.
BRUINS’ BAD TIMES IN THE BUCKEYE STATE
UCLA got drubbed in the state where its season ended in March. The Bruins lost to St. Bonaventure 65-58 in the First Four in Dayton last season.
The schools have played each of the last three seasons. UCLA won 79-67 in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament in Sacramento. Last December, the Bearcats won 77-63 at Pauley Pavilion.
UCLA plays No. 15 Ohio State in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago on Saturday.
Cincinnati hosts South Carolina State on Saturday.
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