Nothing could be finer than the way Jaylen Hands played in the first half against North Carolina.
The UCLA sophomore point guard was a bastion of ball movement Friday in Las Vegas, his eight assists sparking an offensive renaissance. The Bruins scored 46 points and made 51.7% of their shots while building a five-point halftime lead.
“His first half against Carolina was, in my opinion, as good as I’ve seen him,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said Tuesday.
Hands’ second half? Not so good.
He had two turnovers to go with his one assist while reverting to the score-first, pass-second habits he developed as a freshman. Hands scored 12 points after mostly hovering on the perimeter and using a crossover dribble that led to a step-back three-pointer.
The Bruins scored only 32 points while shooting 37.5% in the second half in a 94-78 loss.
“I thought in the second half he got hurried up a little bit,” Alford said of Hands, “and we had too many dribbles going nowhere.”
As UCLA (4-2) prepares to open a four-game homestand on Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion against Hawaii (4-3), Hands acknowledged having given himself a blueprint for the way he wanted to play the rest of the season.
Hands said he was in attack mode when things were going well, driving toward the basket and finding teammates. They were appreciative of the approach.
“It was great to see that and he can really distribute the ball when he puts his mind to it,” said freshman power forward Cody Riley, who scored a career-high 11 points, “and I was glad to have him on my side.”
North Carolina changed the way it defended Hands in the second half, sagging toward the basket instead of applying pressure on screens. It led to some hesitancy for a player making the transition to primary ballhandler for the first time in his college career.
“I wouldn’t say I was hurried,” Hands said, “I was more confused.”
Hands also wasn’t offering much assistance whenever he didn’t have the ball, failing to cut and move to help with spacing and floor balance.
“He’s got a habit of standing 35 feet from the basket and I don’t want that,” Alford said. “Once he gives it up, [he should] cut into areas where your man’s not and in an area where you can catch, shoot it, pass it, dribble it, and I think when he does that his shots are going to go up, his shot percentage is going to go up and he’s going to get to scoring there.”
Hands said he developed a plan to deal with the way the Tar Heels defended him after discussing it with assistant coach Tyus Edney, the point guard on the Bruins’ last national championship team.
“Jay’s doing a tremendous job this year of just studying it, learning it, diving into it, taking ownership of it,” Alford said, “and I think each game he’s going to continue to evolve into the player that we think he can become.”
When: Wednesday, 6 p.m.
Where: Pauley Pavilion.
On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570.
Update: The Rainbow Warriors are coming off losses to Seton Hall and Fresno State after beating Utah by 21 points in the Wooden Legacy. Senior forward Jack Purchase is averaging a team-leading 12.4 points per game as one of four Hawaii players to average double figures in scoring.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch