The familiar letters echoed through the building in the final moments, making it feel like old times again for the basketball school that had resembled something else in recent years.
The No. 2 Bruins rocked Pauley Pavilion on Saturday night, particularly during the second half of an electric 102-84 victory over Michigan before a sellout crowd of 13,571 that was their biggest in nearly four years.
UCLA didn’t just avoid a letdown in its first game after beating top-ranked Kentucky, it zoomed to new heights, pulverizing a Wolverines defense that had ranked ninth nationally by holding teams to an average of 58 points per game.
The Bruins nearly reached that total in the second half alone, outscoring Michigan, 52-34, over the final 20 minutes as their offense continued to hum while their defense finally got the stops it needed. Forward TJ Leaf scored 21 points on 10-for-14 shooting and guard Aaron Holiday made all five of his three-point shots on the way to 17 points for UCLA (10-0), which continued its best start since the 2006-07 team won its first 14 games.
Bruins Coach Steve Alford removed his starters in the final minutes, allowing them to enjoy the roar of the crowd on their way to the bench. UCLA had not played before a bigger crowd at home since facing Arizona on March 2, 2013.
“The fans were great,” freshman guard Lonzo Ball said after tallying 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. “I haven’t seen this place packed like that, I don’t think, ever, so it’s a credit to them.”
The Bruins were efficiency experts, making 39 of 58 shots (67.2%) and 15 of 24 from three-point range (62.5%) while collecting 23 assists and only eight turnovers. Alford noted that his team’s 63 possessions were its fewest of the season and yet it still reached triple digits in points.
“That’s how special offensively this team is,” Alford said. “It’s been, through 10 games, as close to a phenomenal offense as I can think of in my career as far as a team.”
The Wolverines (7-3) matched the Bruins’ high-flying pace in the first half and dared to try again over the final 20 minutes. It didn’t go nearly as well. The Bruins took a 65-55 lead on shooting guard Bryce Alford’s layup with 14:45 left and never led by fewer than five points again.
UCLA also withstood its first significant injury of the season. Center Thomas Welsh did not play because of a bruised right knee suffered during an awkward landing in practice earlier in the week. He’s considered questionable for the Bruins’ game against UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday.
Gyorgy Goloman replaced Welsh in the starting lineup and had six points and two rebounds in 10 foul-plagued minutes. Goloman’s absence opened the way for Ike Anigbogu to energize the Bruins with six points, four rebounds and four blocks in 25 minutes off the bench.
The score was tied, 50-50, at halftime after the normally plodding Wolverines mirrored UCLA in unexpected ways, shooting early in the shot clock and attempting three-pointer after three-pointer. It was a good plan since they nearly all went in.
Michigan made 12 of 16 shots (75%) from beyond the arc in the first half, edging UCLA’s proficiency as the Bruins made 10 of 14 (71.4%) from long range.
“They were pretty much outplaying us at our own game,” Bryce Alford said.
Ball one-upped the Wolverines in the final seconds before halftime when he pulled up for a three-pointer from several feet behind the arc to tie the score.
Then the Bruins finally played some defense. Michigan shot 34.5% and made only two of 10 three-pointer attempts in the second half, making for a happy UCLA homecoming.
“It’s a blast to play in that game,” said Bryce Alford, who finished with 18 points, including three three-pointers. “We didn’t start the way we wanted to, but it’s a testament to what this team is about, finding ways to win and doing it the right way.”
Wednesday vs. UC Santa Barbara, 7:30 p.m., Pauley Pavilion, Pac-12 Networks — The Gauchos (1-5) tallied their first victory of the season in their last game, a 75-51 triumph over Sonoma State on Thursday, and will face San Diego on Sunday.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch