The question for Lonzo Ball now is this:
Just how memorable will his one-and-done NCAA Tournament be?
He certainly will leave UCLA after this season, moving on to the NBA/multi-millionaire portion of his basketball career.
This is Ball’s one chance to leave a lasting impression, as a freshman, on March Madness.
Could he channel John Wall, who led Kentucky to the Elite Eight in 2010?
Or follow the path blazed by Derrick Rose, who took Memphis State to the final in 2008?
Or could Lonzo carry into the NBA the title of “one-and-done best player on an NCAA champion?” — as Carmelo Anthony did in 2003, after his one season with Syracuse; or as Anthony Davis did in 2012, after his cameo with Kentucky?
After his stat-sheet-stuffing performance in UCLA’s second, Ball’s destiny would seem to require some lengthy run in this tournament — even if we recognize that the Bruins figure to be underdogs in however more games they play in this edition of the tournament.
For many of us, Lonzo Ball is the reason we are watching the NCAAs at inhospitable hours. It is bad enough that UCLA’s games are showing at about 9:30 p.m. EDT. It is worse for those of us following from Europe, where tipoff comes sometime between 2 a.m. and 3.
As has been noted by many, it is impossible not to watch Lonzo Ball when UCLA is playing.
Obviously, when he is shooting or passing or dribbling … but also when some other Bruin has the ball in the attacking end or when Lonzo is playing defense, shadowing someone, sneaking to the backboard to grab a rebound.
He was the guy who broke the will of Cincinnati’s Bearcats in UCLA’s 79-67 victory tonight, a W that puts the Bruins in the South region semifinals.
Ball finished with 18 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, two steals and 4-for-7 accuracy from behind the arc. He played 38 of 40 minutes.
In a 10-minute stretch in the middle of the second half, he was doing something to help UCLA win pretty much every time he touched the ball, overcoming Cincinnati’s halftime lead and turning it into UCLA’s 31st victory.
Check the Lonzo-oriented play-by-play, beginning at the 18:10 mark.
18:10 TJ Leaf made dunk, assisted by Lonzo Ball
17:45 Lonzo Ball defensive rebound.
17:17 Lonzo Ball defensive rebound.
17:10 Isaac Hamilton made three-pointer, assisted by Lonzo Ball.
15:49 TJ Leaf made layup, assisted by Lonzo Ball.
14:30 TJ Leaf made layup, assisted by Lonzo Ball.
13:32 Lonzo Ball made three-point jumper.
13:06 Lonzo Ball made three-point jumper.
12:32 Lonzo Ball defensive rebound.
10:24 Lonzo Ball defensive rebound.
10:17 Bryce Alford made three-point jumper, assisted by Lonzo Ball.
10:17 Ike Anikbogu made dunk, assisted by Lonzo Ball.
9:11 Lonzo Ball made layup.
That 8:59 of game clock included two timeouts called by the shell-shocked Bearcats and ended with UCLA holding a 64-52 lead, its biggest of the game.
Through it all, Ball did what he so often does. Lulls opponents with a leisurely approach to the attacking end; dissects a defense and stabs it with a killer pass; anticipates where a rebound likely will descend; drains a couple of threes.
He holds the ball for long stretches, but that is fine with everyone in powder blue and white because he is looking for ways to get someone else an easy look and an easy basket.
What Lonzo Ball (and UCLA) could use is another two or three game-turning performances like that one, beginning with Kentucky on Friday and perhaps followed by North Carolina, Gonzaga and Kansas.
Three No. 1 seeds and a No. 2? Seems daunting.
But if Lonzo Ball can lead the Bruins to that, it would be fitting … but somehow even expected.