Isaac Hamilton can sometimes judge his night on the first shot.
Making it, he said, “keeps me in a groove.”
It was a good sign then, when UCLA's game Wednesday began with Hamilton's confident three-pointer from the top of the key. He bounded down the court, as if on a pogo stick. The second half began similarly, with Hamilton's four-point play, a three-pointer he made while falling to the court, plus the free throw.
It ended with Hamilton on the free-throw line, the game in hand. In between, he hardly missed in UCLA's 82-73 win over Oregon State. Hamilton made 10 of 14 shots for 25 points.
Hamilton has scored in double figures in 15 consecutive games, and his maturation into a confident, consistent scorer has allowed UCLA (12-7, 3-3 Pac-12) to weather off nights from its typical bellwethers, Bryce Alford and Tony Parker.
Alford scored 19 points, but missed 10 of 15 shots, and Parker made two of eight for eight points, but the Bruins still easily dispatched the Beavers (11-6, 2-4). Thomas Welsh helped by making all four of his field goals and both of his free throws en route to 10 points and 12 rebounds.
“I don't think it's a team where you just sit on Tony, because then Tom hurts you,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said. “And you can't sit on Bryce or Aaron [Holiday] or Isaac will hurt you. So offense isn't our problem.”
No, the problem has been the defense. After a 14-point loss to USC last Wednesday, UCLA's coaches spent the week hammering the team for allowing what Steve Alford called an “astronomically high” amount of points — 86 per game during Pac-12 play. Steve Alford held unusually long practices on Friday and Saturday, working on fixes.
“Those were some brutal practices,” Hamilton said.
The renewed focus paid off. UCLA gave up 11 points in the first 10 minutes of the game. The 73 points allowed was its best defensive effort since holding McNeese State to 53 points on Dec. 22.
The key for UCLA, though, will be defensive consistency. UCLA is 8-0 when it holds teams to fewer than 80 points, but it had done that only once in conference play entering Wednesday.
The Bruins have played stout defense against teams like Gonzaga, which mustered only 66 points in a UCLA win in December. Then it has been frustrated by lapses.
Gyorgy Goloman, who played two minutes against USC in his return from injury, logged 17 minutes and scored three points. Steve Alford used Goloman and guard Noah Allen often as he searched for defensive production from the bench.
Thanks to the defensive effort, UCLA led for the final 36 minutes.
Oregon State guard Gary Payton II picked up two fouls fewer than four minutes into the game. Payton averages about 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game. His early absence hurt.
UCLA embarked on a 10-0 run with Payton on the bench. He sat for nearly 10 minutes. When he reentered, UCLA was controlling the game. Payton finished with 17 points and seven assists.
UCLA ended the first half on a step-back buzzer beater from Holiday, who traversed the court in fewer than six seconds, and began the second half with Hamilton's four-point play.
Midway through the second half, Alford snapped a cold streak with a 25-foot three-pointer, a circus shot in the paint and a breakaway layup, giving UCLA a 13-point lead. It would swell to 18.
Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand