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Jaylen Hands' return to the UCLA starting lineup may be just a cameo

Jaylen Hands' return to the UCLA starting lineup may be just a cameo
UCLA's Jaylen Hands falls along with California's Juhwan Harris-Dyson (2) after missing a dunk on Thursday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Jaylen Hands in UCLA's starting lineup may be like a playing card held by a sleight-of-hand magician: Now you see him, now you don't.

The freshman point guard started the Bruins' first five games before suffering a sprained left foot against Wisconsin in late November. Hands missed one game because of the injury and when he returned it was as the backup point guard in the next 15 games, coach Steve Alford preferring to stagger the use of his two primary ballhandlers.

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Hands was back in the starting lineup Thursday during UCLA's 70-57 victory over California, displacing forward GG Goloman. But Alford indicated afterward that Hands' appearance in that role could be just a cameo.

Alford said he didn't know if starting four guards would be a good idea against the large front line the Bruins (14-7 overall, 5-4 in Pac-12 Conference play) will face Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion against Stanford (11-10, 5-3). The Cardinal will have 6-foot-9 forward Michael Humphrey, 6-8 forward Reid Travis and 6-8 forward Kezie Okpala in their starting lineup.

Another factor could be that Alford said starting Hands took Kris Wilkes out of his offensive flow against Cal. Wilkes entered the game averaging 13.8 points but finished with 10 points on two-for-eight shooting, making only one of five three-pointers.

"You don't want that," Alford said of Wilkes' impact being diminished, "because he's too valuable to what we're doing."

Wilkes, a 6-8 small forward, said the biggest adjustment came defensively because he was guarding a power forward and picked up two fouls in a 40-second span in the first half.

"Oh, man," Wilkes said with a laugh. "It was definitely tough, especially guarding the four man."

Wilkes said he spent the week defending suspended UCLA forward Jalen Hill in practice to prepare for his new role.

Hands finished his first start in more than two months with 14 points, six rebounds and one assist. He lamented missing several layups but thrilled the crowd in the second half with a ferocious one-handed dunk.

"I should do that more," Hands said of going strong to the basket, "but it was really because I was missing every layup."

Hands said he didn't care whether he started or came off the bench so long as the Bruins won. Alford suggested that in many instances starting Hands could give his team an edge because it produces a lineup that is fast, long and athletic.

"As long as we can rebound and defend without getting in foul trouble," Alford said, "I think we can do more of that."

::

UCLA

VS. STANFORD

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When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Pauley Pavilion

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570

Update: UCLA has gotten off to a slow start three times in its last four games, prompting some boos Thursday when underdog California took a 13-point lead in the first half. "A couple of these games, our concentration wasn't always there and that's why we started off sluggish," Bruins forward Kris Wilkes said, "but as the game progresses we get that concentration back and somebody steps up." Stanford has slipped a bit since its hot start in Pac-12 play, consecutive losses to Arizona and USC dropping the Cardinal into third place. Stanford overcame a 13-point deficit during the second half of a 107-99 double overtime victory over the Bruins earlier this month at Maples Pavilion.

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch

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