UCLA freshmen help power No. 16 Bruins to 119-80 win over Pacific in opener
UCLA announced its intentions about the way it wants to play this season late in the first half Friday night.
Aaron Holiday dribbled into the lane on a fast break and lofted a pass high into the air with his left hand. A trailing Lonzo Ball snatched the ball with his right hand and slammed it into the basket over Pacific’s D.J. Ursery, briefly hovering near the vanquished defender as fans roared inside Pauley Pavilion.
The play earned Ball a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct as well as thunderous approval from Bruins students who chanted “Lon-zo Ba-all! Lon-zo Ba-all!”
As Ball embraced Holiday after the play, one truth became self-evident: UCLA basketball is fun again.
The No. 16 Bruins raced their way to a 119-80 romp over the Tigers in a season opener that was equal parts track meet and three-point barrage.
UCLA made a school-record 18 three-pointers, earning fans free Chick-fil-A sandwiches with six seconds left before halftime when Holiday drilled the team’s 10th shot from beyond the arc. The Bruins took 30 three-pointers, not far behind their 39 two-point attempts.
“I think for the future that will be a regular thing,” Ball said of his team’s success from long distance.
Ball nearly logged a triple-double in his first college game, finishing with 19 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. Fellow UCLA freshman T.J. Leaf was similarly strong with 22 points and 15 rebounds, powering in for a dunk late in the game after he grabbed his own missed free throw.
Bruins shooting guard Bryce Alford made 6 of 9 three-pointers on the way to 30 points, his final three-pointer nudging his team over 100 points with 6:49 left in the game. UCLA finished with its most points since it scored 120 against Cal State Fullerton in December 1997, and it was the first time the Bruins topped triple digits since beating Nicholls State in November 2014.
“I think tonight I finally got to show what I can do when I’m playing my natural position,” said Alford, who spent last season as one of the team’s primary ball handlers.
Holiday finished with 18 points and five assists with no turnovers off the bench and Isaac Hamilton added 17 points for the Bruins, whose outside shooting was largely the result of hard screens and zippy ball movement.
“I couldn’t be more pleased how our ball moved,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said. “That’s the way the game should be played. I thought that was beautiful basketball.”
The Bruins played without power forward Alex Olesinksi, who recently sustained a strained foot that required a walking boot. He is questionable for UCLA’s game Sunday against Cal State Northridge.
Pacific features a high-profile coach in Damon Stoudamire, the former longtime NBA point guard, but not enough talent to keep things competitive against the Bruins. Guard T.J. Wallace led the Tigers with 21 points.
Pacific looked particularly overmatched when Ball elevated over Ursery for his highlight dunk.
“It was a good play,” Ball said matter of factly, triggering laughter from Leaf.
Said Leaf: “Lonzo, when he’s catching lobs and going for blocks, I don’t know anyone who can jump as high.”
It was a strong rebuttal to UCLA’s opener last season, when it lost to Monmouth in overtime amid appalling play by its guards. The defeat was a harbinger of things to come in a losing season.
There was nothing but optimism Friday. The Bruins featured their freshman class on the cover of their game program, heralding what they hope is the arrival of better times. Their debut will be hard to top.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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