Jaylen Hands first walked onto the court 4½ minutes into the game and it was as if he wanted to make up for lost time.
The UCLA freshman point guard generated a steal and a breakaway one-handed dunk. He made three three-point shots. He grabbed a rebound and started a fastbreak that ended with a touch pass to Alex Olesinski for a dunk.
Hands was involved in nearly everything that went right for the Bruins in the first half of a 106-73 victory over Detroit Mercy on Sunday night at Pauley Pavilion. His only mistake during his first-half flurry might have been earning a technical foul for hanging on the rim after another steal and dunk.
“I had to hang on the rim because I didn’t think I was gonna make it,” Hands said, referring to a lack of explosiveness caused by a recent foot injury. “So no more of that. That made me mad.”
Hands scored 17 of his career-high 23 points before halftime, serving notice that he could be incredibly effective whether he continues to be a sixth man or goes back to the starting lineup. He made eight of 13 shots, including four of seven three-pointers, and had nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and only one turnover in 24 minutes.
It was the second consecutive game that Hands came off the bench after spraining his left foot against Wisconsin on Nov. 21 and sitting out the next game. Prince Ali, who started each of the past three games in Hands’ place, finished with 20 points on eight-for-12 shooting in 22 minutes.
“It’s a feeling-out process,” coach Steve Alford said when asked whether Hands would continue to fill the sixth-man role. “I’m not so much worried about the starting as I am kind of where the minutes are falling and both Prince and Jaylen are playing really well.”
As if to underscore Hands’ effectiveness running the team, the Bruins (7-1) went nearly five minutes without a field goal late in the first half while Hands spent most of that time on the bench. He returned to make a layup that extended UCLA’s lead to 13 points.
Hands’ final points came on a reverse dunk during a second half filled with highlight plays for the Bruins. Forward Kris Wilkes made a reverse windmill dunk and guard Aaron Holiday caused his defender to fall with a crossover dribble that he followed with a jumper that gave the Bruins a 33-point lead.
“That was the most fun we’ve had in a game this year,” Hands said.
Alford called it perhaps his team’s most complete game of the season, noting how his players complemented their recent defensive improvement with efficient offense.
Four days after they struggled to move the ball throughout the first half against Cal State Bakersfield, the Bruins were in a more sharing mood. UCLA logged assists on each of its first five baskets and produced 52 points in the first half, resembling the cohesive and efficient team of last season that was led by current Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball.
“I thought what got us going tonight was our defense,” Ali said. “We knew coming in that they played a very fast tempo — fifth in the nation — so we knew if we got stops, we’d be able to run. And we were able to get stops.”
Detroit forward Roschon Prince completed what might have been an unprecedented feat just by checking into the game in the first half. The graduate transfer was playing for his third team inside Pauley Pavilion in five seasons.
The former Long Beach Poly High star scored six points for USC as a freshman during the Trojans’ 30-point blowout loss against UCLA in January 2014. He sat out the next season before scoring three points for Long Beach State during the 49ers’ 83-76 loss to UCLA in December 2015. He scored 10 points for the 49ers in November 2016 during their 114-77 defeat against the Bruins.
Prince received the dreaded “airball” chant from fans after misfiring on a jumper late in the first half and finished with four points. Guard Kameron Chatman led the Titans (4-4) with 18 points.