Almost every time Stanford inbounded the ball in the second half Thursday, the Cardinal were met by an unwelcoming party.
A handful of UCLA players lingered in the backcourt to provide pressure, arms waving and legs shuffling from one trap to another.
It resulted in three turnovers and helped the Bruins quicken the pace to their liking during a 92-70 romp at Pauley Pavilion. It also made some wonder why UCLA hadn’t used a similar approach well before Murry Bartow replaced coach Steve Alford on an interim basis.
“Great defense on the press,” broadcaster and former Bruins great Bill Walton said during the ESPN broadcast after UCLA’s Jaylen Hands forced a turnover that led to a Prince Ali dunk. “I’m not sure why UCLA doesn’t press all the time. When you have the most talent and you’re bigger, faster, stronger than the other team, you want the game to get going up and down.”
That was exactly what Bartow, whose team includes eight players standing 6 feet 8 or taller, said his team’s press was intended to do.
The Bruins hurried Stanford into four turnovers overall as a result of the full-court pressure. The first came in the opening half when Hands, Ali and teammate Kris Wilkes remained in the backcourt to trap the Cardinal after Hands made a free throw to complete a three-point play.
Wilkes intercepted a pass and went in for a dunk that energized the crowd and gave UCLA a 14-point lead, forcing Stanford to call a timeout.
UCLA largely backed off its pressure until early in the second half, when Ali tipped a pass and the scrambling Cardinal were forced to zigzag their way across the court before reaching halfcourt. It led to a 10-second backcourt violation.
The Bruins pressured almost every time Stanford inbounded the ball the rest of the game. They forced one last turnover in the final minutes when an Ali steal resulted in a layup by David Singleton.
“We haven’t seen a press like that in a while,” Stanford forward KZ Okpala said after his team committed 14 turnovers in the game. “They have so much length and we can’t have those turnovers.”
Perhaps just as critical as UCLA’s pressure was its ability to take care of the ball. The Bruins committed only 12 turnovers — half their total from a 15-point setback against Liberty last weekend — while playing much faster.
“Coach Bartow really put a focus on playing with speed,” Hands said. “He thinks we’re really athletic and we should use it more. I don’t think we called a lot of plays, I think we just did a lot of running, passing. If you’re open, attack; if you shoot it, just play free.”
An early ‘No’?
Texas Christian coach Jamie Dixon, a native of North Hollywood and a former Ben Howland assistant widely considered a candidate for UCLA’s vacancy, intimated that he had no interest in the job.
“I’ve got the best [athletic director], the best chancellor and my family is happy [here],” Dixon told reporters of the situation at his alma mater. “Why would I be thinking about anything else?”
Dixon, who has gone 56-28 in 2½ seasons at TCU, added that he had addressed the situation with his players.
“They were joking about it and I told them, ‘You’re stuck with me, guys.’ ”
A new candidate may have emerged to replace Alford … at least in the mind of Walton. He suggested former President Obama as UCLA’s new coach on the ESPN broadcast, before also throwing out soon to be former California governor Jerry Brown and former Vice President Joe Biden as possibilities. … UCLA power forward Alex Olesinski, making his season debut against Stanford after being sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot, came up with a steal for his lone highlight in five minutes. … Bartow’s first victory as UCLA coach came seven years to the day after his father, Gene, the former Bruins coach, died. “It’s a little bit emotional for me to think about it,” Murry said.
When: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Pauley Pavilion.
On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570.