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UCLA conquers road woes, and No. 20 Gonzaga, 71-66

UCLA's Isaac Hamilton drives against Gonzaga's Kyle Dranginis in the first half of the game on Saturday.

UCLA’s Isaac Hamilton drives against Gonzaga’s Kyle Dranginis in the first half of the game on Saturday.

(William Mancebo / Getty Images)

In a hallway outside the UCLA locker room, Coach Steve Alford let out a whoop and pounded the chest of a passerby.

After a rough start this season, the Bruins have begun vanquishing last season’s painful memories. Last week, they knocked off No. 1 Kentucky, which had embarrassed them a year earlier.

On Saturday, it was Gonzaga’s turn. The Bulldogs had beaten UCLA at Pauley Pavilion last year, then ended its season in the NCAA tournament.

UCLA can cross them off the list too. In a highly entertaining, white-knuckle game, when the lead pinballed between each team, UCLA held it last. The Bruins beat No. 20 Gonzaga, 71-66, at the McCarthey Athletic Center, for its biggest road win in Alford’s tenure.

“We could’ve played them in the park,” Tony Parker said. “We just wanted to play them. It didn’t matter if it was on the schedule or not. We just wanted to play Gonzaga.”

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No team led by more than eight points, and that was in the game’s opening minutes. The lead changed 12 times.

UCLA Coach Steve Alford had said before the game the contest could hinge on Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer, who would attack UCLA on offense, and whom UCLA would test on defense.

Early on, neither team had an answer. UCLA scored on its first three possessions, including two three-pointers from Isaac Hamilton, who led UCLA with 20 points.

“They kind of left me open,” Hamilton said. “In warm-ups I was hitting it, so I felt good.”

Meanwhile, Wiltjer made everything he attempted early on, including long three-pointers on three straight possessions. By the first media timeout, UCLA led, 17-14. The race, it seemed, was on.

But Jonah Bolden was watching from the bench. He noticed Parker was giving Wiltjer just enough space, and Wiltjer was punishing him.

Bolden subbed in at the break, and his defense slowed down Wiltjer. Bolden played a career-high 30 minutes, and recorded his first double-double, with 10 points and 11 rebounds. By halftime, the scoring had been stanched. Gonzaga led, 32-30.

For the fourth game in a row, the Bulldogs played without 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski, who was out with back spasms. Still, the Gonzaga frontcourt remained its offensive engine. Wiltjer scored 20 points, and Domantas Sabonis added 18. Both had eight rebounds.

But in the second half, Parker found a rhythm. He scored eight of UCLA’s first 10 points to start the half. He finished with 16 points on eight-of-nine shooting and had eight rebounds.

Neither team could make much of a sustained run.

“It was very similar to Kentucky,” Alford said. “We didn’t let them get a lot of big runs. For us to do that in their house, that was huge..”

With a minute left, UCLA led by one. During a break, Alford told his team if they could get an open look, take it.

With UCLA up by three, Josh Perkins slipped, giving Hamilton had a one-on-one breakaway. He chose not to run out the clock. His layup gave UCLA a decisive five-point lead.

UCLA’s Prince Ali left the game with a left knee sprain. Alford said he does not believe it was serious, but it will require more testing.

Without him, the guards logged long minutes. Bryce Alford played 38 minutes, Aaron Holiday had 30 and Hamilton 37.

After, the exhaustion had not yet hit.

“It was just sweet,” Hamilton said, “just getting a win.”

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand


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