The UCLA team that escaped UC Irvine couldn’t be found. The Bruins basketball squad that couldn’t play up-tempo went AWOL.
In their place, a new unit made its season debut Thursday against James Madison.
It poured in points with a pace Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni would adore, and it lighted up Pauley Pavilion’s new LED video boards with highlights their fans have craved.
No. 13 UCLA decked the less-than-heralded Dukes, 100-70, to improve to 3-0.
The blowout calmed concerns after a one-point win against Irvine two days before.
But more important, the breakneck offense that Coach Ben Howland installed this off-season hummed along in high gear for the first time this season.
“They played right into what we want to do,” Howland said, noting that the Dukes (0-1) took quick shots, providing UCLA with extra possessions and a chance to run.
Still, the Bruins, led by a career-high 27 points from sophomore guard Norman Powell, didn’t slog along as they did in their first two games.
Instead, before a crowd of 7,554, UCLA sprinted, moving the ball until open looks appeared. The Bruins converted 59% of their shots (36 of 61), but it seemed like much more.
Up and down the lineup, UCLA players contributed, pushing the lead to double digits and then to no-doubt territory. Team marks were set, personal bests were bested.
By halftime, UCLA had scored more points (63) than it had in any half since 1997, when it scored 64 in the first half against Cal State Fullerton.
Midway through the second half, Jordan Adams became the first UCLA freshman to begin his career with three consecutive games of 20 or more points.
Bruins freshman didn’t play before 1972.
“I don’t look to beat any records. I just play,” said Adams, who finished with 25 points on seven-for-10 shooting.
By the end, the Bruins broke 100 points for the first time since 2009, when it put up that many against New Mexico State.
“Seeing the double zeros is a great feeling, so we’re going to try to get there again,” Powell said.
When UCLA’s point total hit the triple-digit mark, the new 16-foot by 12-foot video board perched over center court showed only “OO.”
Perhaps engineers designed it to fit the grind-it-out scheme for which Howland was famous, but under his new scheme, a change might be in order.
Larry Drew II had a career-high 12 assists and Kyle Anderson added 12 rebounds.
The Bruins now ship off to Brooklyn, where the Legends Classic for continues with a showdown of two legendary programs: Georgetown (2-0) vs. UCLA.
If UCLA knocks off the Hoyas at the Barclays Center, it will play the winner of the other semifinal between No. 1 Indiana and Georgia on Tuesday.
If the Bruins lose, they’ll play in the consolation game Tuesday.
A bigger test looms before those games, though, as UCLA’s hearing before the NCAA appeals committee is expected to be held Friday.
And if the committee sides with UCLA, highly rated freshman Shabazz Muhammad, whom the NCAA declared ineligible last week Nov. 9 for a violation of amateurism rules, probably would become eligible immediately, making it possible that the 6-foot-6 swingman could make his collegiate debut in the Big Apple.
If the committee denies the appeal, Muhammad would have to go through a reinstatement process to regain his eligibility.
“I’m hopeful,” Howland said. “Praying and hopeful.”