Reporting from Lahaina, Hawaii — For one half, UCLA returned to its originally scheduled season.
The Bruins had been continually sidetracked during a maddening season-opening stretch that included player suspensions and a pair of unexpected losses to mid-major opponents.
Things threatened to unravel in historic fashion Monday when Coach Ben Howland sat forward Reeves Nelson for the first half as punishment for missing a team bus, and UCLA led Chaminade by only two points at halftime.
The Bruins’ first 0-3 start in 71 years seemed a realistic possibility.
That’s when the UCLA team that had started the season nationally ranked finally showed up, pushing back the spunky Silverswords for a 92-60 victory at the Lahaina Civic Center in the opening round of the Maui Invitational.
Bruins guards Lazeric Jones, Jerime Anderson and Tyler Lamb combined for 52 points and made several key plays during a decisive 29-3 run midway through the second half.
Jones scored 19 points and Anderson and Lamb logged career highs with 18 and 15 points, respectively.
UCLA (1-2) will play No. 14 Kansas (2-1) on Tuesday evening in a semifinal. The Jayhawks defeated Georgetown, 67-63, on Monday.
“Our guards really came to play,” said sophomore center Joshua Smith, who had 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocks as one of five Bruins scoring in double figures.
Anderson made six of eight shots, including four of six three-point attempts, as UCLA shook off its early-season shooting woes to make 19 of 33 (57.6%) in the second half, including six of 11 from beyond the arc.
The Bruins’ offense was spurred by tenacious defense that held Division II Chaminade (2-1) to 20% shooting after halftime, including one for 11 on three-point attempts.
Nelson helped the defensive effort with a block and a steal to go with his one point and five rebounds in 11 minutes. He entered the game with 16 minutes 37 seconds remaining after being held out as punishment for missing the Bruins’ bus to Los Angeles International Airport two days earlier.
Nelson also missed the team flight to Hawaii, a practice and a players’ party Saturday night. Howland said Nelson’s alarm clock failed to sound because of a power outage, but the coach “still felt that we had to do something. I wanted to let him know that he’s got to do a better job leaving his phone on to be the alarm rather than the electric one that can be blanked out if the electricity goes out.”
Nelson had sat out UCLA’s 20-point loss to Middle Tennessee State last week while serving a suspension for being late to a team meeting, among other issues. He didn’t wait long to make an impact against Chaminade, blocking a shot 46 seconds after stepping onto the floor and then assisting Anderson on a three-pointer shortly after that.
When he stepped to the free-throw line and made one of two shots a few minutes later, the large contingent of Bruins fans greeted him with a prolonged, “Reeeeeves.”
“There was a lot more energy coming from every player on our team,” Anderson said. “You know, Reeves does that for us.”
UCLA did not make Nelson available to reporters after the game.
The Bruins played without junior forward De’End Parker (right knee) and sophomore forward David Wear (concussion). Wear could return as soon as Tuesday but Parker’s injury, suffered during practice Saturday, is expected to keep him out longer.