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UCLA sets a fast and furious pace in basketball opener

The pecking order inside Pauley Pavilion made sense again.

Pushed around on its home floor by a Big West Conference opponent a year ago, UCLA pushed back in its opener this time.

Hard.

The Bruins delivered an early knockout against Cal State Northridge on Friday night, scoring the first 15 points on the way to an 83-50 victory.

UCLA had promised to play fast, but no one said anything about starting games at warp speed. The Bruins scored basket after basket, essentially ending any suspense about the outcome in the first five minutes.

It was like a highlight reel stuck on fast forward. Bruins guard Lazeric Jones repeatedly buried jumpers and forward Tyler Honeycutt whisked an over-the-shoulder pass to Reeves Nelson for a dunk.

“We just wanted to set the tone for what’s going to happen this year,” said Nelson, who finished with a game-high 17 points on six-for-six shooting.

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The early lead eventually swelled to 28 points as UCLA made a staggering 72% of its shots in the first half. It was sweet redemption for a team that went 0-2 last season against Big West teams, including a double overtime loss to Cal State Fullerton in its opener.

There was no doubt which team hailed from the major conference Friday. The Bruins were more athletic, more assertive and more willing to make the extra pass to get an easy basket.

Jones appeared more confident after acknowledging that he had struggled to adjust to Coach Ben Howland’s system in the Bruins’ exhibition games. He scored 12 points in the first half and finished with 15 points and four assists to go with only one turnover.

“I feel when I’m aggressive,” Jones said, “I’m a little more effective.”

The only things Howland said didn’t please him were too many turnovers (22) and Northridge’s 18 offensive rebounds. Honeycutt had 16 points and six rebounds but was responsible for seven of the Bruins’ turnovers.

“A lot of them, I was going for the home run pass and was a little too excited because we had such a big lead,” Honeycutt said. “Next game, I’ll tone it down a little bit.”

UCLA freshman center Joshua Smith was active from the opening tip, nearly forcing a turnover on the Matadors’ first possession when he combined with Nelson on a double team. Smith also intercepted a pass and later grabbed a rebound to start a possession that ended in a mid-range jumper by Jones.

UCLA suddenly had a 13-0 lead and Northridge Coach Bobby Braswell felt compelled to call a timeout. Applauding Bruins fans rose to their feet.

But the game-opening run wasn’t over. Malcolm Lee added a pull-up jumper before the Matadors finally scored on a free throw by Lenny Daniel with 4 minutes 47 seconds having elapsed. Daniel, Northridge’s only returning starter, struggled to deal with repeated double teams and finished with one point.

Expectations aren’t particularly high this season for Northridge. Braswell joked last month that the only thing his team might win was a cooking competition in which Braswell prevailed against other coaches from the Big West.

Senior guard Rashaun McLemore scored 10 points for the Matadors, who looked shaky from start to finish, committing 27 turnovers and shooting only 29%.

“We just didn’t come out ready to play,” Braswell said.

ben.bolch@latimes.com


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