Publicly, Steve Alford had warned about this game, and privately, the rest of the UCLA men’s basketball coaching staff compared Coastal Carolina to Drexel, a smart, disciplined team that nearly upset the Bruins early last season.
Coastal Carolina, they reasoned, was an NCAA tournament team last season, a team that made top-seeded Virginia fight to advance. The Chanticleers returned four starters and would play smart by taking away UCLA’s advantages.
UCLA was, Alford said, “Very concerned with it.”
“Lots of concerns for our team coming into this game,” he said.
There were fewer after the game, won by UCLA, 84-71, even though Coastal Carolina, as expected, forced UCLA into uncomfortable spots.
The Chanticleers were careful with the ball and took away UCLA’s transition game, which the Bruins’ offense had relied heavily on in two exhibition matchups and Friday’s opener. But UCLA adapted.
After a close first half, UCLA (2-0) went on a run in the second half with a balanced, versatile offensive attack to cruise to the victory.
“I was very pleased with how we handled it,” Alford said.
In the opener Friday, the Bruins zipped down the court and turned most opportunities into quick-strike scores. They scored 113 points.
On Sunday, UCLA officially had no fastbreak points, though Alford said he counted a few.
With large portions of Pauley Pavilion empty, a malaise set in early. UCLA couldn’t find its shooting touch early and later in the half, all movement slowed and players stood idly.
Watching the slower pace, the UCLA coaches used timeouts to preach the set-offense principles. During the halftime break, the message was to keep moving, circulate the ball, set screens.
Eventually, the message sunk in. UCLA went on a 13-0 run with smart passing and by muscling the ball inside to draw fouls.
“That’s what good teams do,” Isaac Hamilton said. “Make adjustments a little bit.”
After last season, when two-thirds of the team’s scoring departed, Norman Powell figured to become the featured scorer. Of more intrigue was who else could put the ball in the basket. And if the Bruins didn’t get out and run, could they still score?
Powell, an especially dynamic player in transition, fouled out and finished with 13 points. But for the second game in a row, all five starters finished in double figures.
Bryce Alford and Kevon Looney led the way with 17 points each — Alford with seven assists and Looney with 14 rebounds for his first double-double.
Alford scored all of his points in the second half.
Hamilton, a reputed volume shooter in high school, picked his spots with precision. He scored 16 points on six-for-11 shooting.
Tony Parker had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“We got a lot of great scorers,” Looney said. “Norman can score. Bryce can score. Isaac. Tony.”
For the second game in a row, the Bruins got to the free-throw line often and made 22 of 26 tries.
Alford said the team still didn’t come close to a complete game. When the defense was good in the first half, the offense wasn’t. When the offense picked up, the defense fell off.
But he said he was “really happy” with the win because of the way his team adapted.
“We were already putting in people’s minds we can run,” Alford said.
And they’d still prefer to. But now they know they can win even when they don’t.