Prince Ali walked off the court slowly, hands on his hips and eyes on the hardwood floor. UCLA’s players dragged their feet off the court after a win they eked out despite a late run by Long Beach State.
Behind a strong second half, UCLA defeated Long Beach State 91-80 at Pauley Pavilion on Friday night, improving to 2-0. Moses Brown led the Bruins with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Kris Wilkes added 17. Deishuan Booker scored a game-high 31 for the 49ers.
“We had some guys not defend in the way we’re capable of defending in today’s game. And it almost hurt us,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said.
Over the last two seasons, UCLA has established pristine three-point shooting. The Bruins’ 310 three-pointers last season marked the second most in program history, after setting the record (354) the year before.
But 10 minutes into the battle against Long Beach State, UCLA trailed by five, shooting 37.5% from the field and one for seven from three.
UCLA’s defense kept all but one Long Beach State player from making more than one basket in the first 12 minutes. That player, senior guard Booker, scored 14 points in less than 10 minutes to give the 49ers an early lead and tallied 19 by the end of the half.
With 4 1/2 minutes left, Jaylen Hands bolted to the top of the arc. After receiving the pass from Wilkes he sent the ball soaring, his first attempt at a three-point shot all half. It swished to bring the Bruins within two.
Wilkes added a layup several seconds later, putting UCLA ahead after Long Beach State led for more than 10 minutes.
As the seconds ticked away, the first-half buzzer looming, Hands dribbled up to the arc and slipped to the right. He released the three just before the buzzer sounded, giving UCLA a 45-41 lead.
Hands sank both of his attempts but the rest of the Bruins shot four for 14 from three in the half. After combining for 45 points in UCLA’s season-opening win over Purdue Fort Wayne, Hands and Wilkes each scored 11 points in the first half against Long Beach State.
In the first few minutes of the second half, Long Beach State erased the Bruins’ lead with a three by Bryan Alberts, then a layup by Booker. The 49ers reclaimed the lead when Booker sank a three as he fell to the floor.
Dunks from Wilkes and Brown revitalized a UCLA offense that improved in the paint during the second half. After earning only two offensive rebounds in the first half, the Bruins pulled down seven in the first 10 minutes, doubling their second-chance points.
David Singleton had made only one basket the whole game, but nearly nine minutes into the second half, he flashed a fake run to the left behind the arc that sent his defender tumbling to the floor. He dribbled a few steps closer and dumped the ball to Chris Smith, who dished it back to a wide-open Singleton. He hit the three, giving UCLA a four-point lead.
From there, the Bruins clung to a narrow lead that Brown extended with a dunk. A few minutes later, Singleton swished another open three from the same spot, giving UCLA an eight-point lead.
The Bruins maintained a comfortable lead until Jordan Roberts plucked the ball from Jalen Hill’s hands and scored a layup, prompting UCLA to call a timeout with the lead cut to five with three minutes left. Wilkes committed a turnover once play resumed.
“It was our vets late in the game who were not taking care of the basketball,” Alford said. “So I think they got to look at tape.”
Brown revitalized the Bruins with a rim-rattling dunk, but it was the Bruins’ only score in a three-minute, 14-2 run by the 49ers. But the Bruins responded with two minutes to play by drawing fouls and sinking free throws while stifling the 49ers.
The Bruins finished eight of 23 from beyond the arc and 19 of 30 from the line. That was not enough to bring about the Bruins’ downfall because of a team effort that culminated in relief, over celebration, once the final buzzer sounded.
Friday vs. St. Francis (Pa.), 8 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion, Pac-12 Networks — St. Francis lost its season opener at Buffalo but defeated Morgan State 80-62 on Friday. Keith Braxton leads the team with 38 points and 22 rebounds in those two games.