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UCLA avoids drama in 81-67 victory over Pepperdine

Bruins center Thomas Welsh (40) and guard Isaac Hamilton (10) double team Waves forward Jett Raines in the first half.

Bruins center Thomas Welsh (40) and guard Isaac Hamilton (10) double team Waves forward Jett Raines in the first half.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Midway through the second half of UCLA’s game Thursday against Pepperdine, another big UCLA lead had begun to evaporate. The Waves were on a run. The Bruins were whistled for traveling.

On the sideline, UCLA Coach Steve Alford hid his face with his hand. UCLA had already blown two sizable leads in its first two games, and split the decisions. Now, it was happening again.

Alford said he was close to calling a timeout. But he let his team play through it.

“I kind of wanted to see early how they would handle it,” Alford said. “And they handled it pretty good.”

For the first time in three games, there was no drama. UCLA tightened. The Bruins won, 81-67. They led by double digits for the game’s final 35 minutes.

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“A pivotal game for us,” Alford said.

Despite festering turnover issues — UCLA committed 17 — the Bruins’ guards have mostly responded after an embarrassing opening-night performance, after which Alford challenged the backcourt. Bryce Alford scored 19 points with five assists and Isaac Hamilton added 10 points and five assists.

And freshman Aaron Holiday had, perhaps, his best game yet.

Against Monmouth, Holiday had turned the ball over six times and had just one assist. After the next game, he ran up to Steve Alford.

“That was better, right?” he said.

Against Pepperdine, despite four turnovers, Holiday was arguably better still. He scored 14 points in the first half alone. He finished with 16.

In the first two games, the backcourt had been shredded defensively in transition and on the perimeter.

“Everybody in this room could’ve emailed me on what to work on in the last three days in practice,” Steve Alford said.

On Thursday, UCLA smothered Pepperdine’s guards. When the Waves probed the paint, they could not overcome UCLA’s size. Tony Parker had his third double-double in as many games. He scored 15 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.

The two big men in the lineup have complemented each other well, Parker said. Parker is a savvy veteran, he said. Thomas Welsh is a hungry sophomore. Parker is fiery. Welsh is mild-mannered.

“I let Tom listen to rap,” Parker said. “He makes me listen to country.”

Pepperdine managed just seven points in roughly the first eight minutes, and UCLA exploded to a lead with three-pointers.

Last season, only Kentucky had a better three-point defense than Pepperdine. In its first two games combined, Pepperdine allowed two three-pointers, on 36 shots. UCLA made double that in the first six minutes.

Overall, UCLA shot 50% from the field. Five players scored in double digits, including, for the first time, Prince Ali, who scored 12.

Before the game, John Impelman, a Pepperdine assistant and John Wooden’s great-grandson, dug out an old tie of Wooden’s and wore it for the game. It was the first time a member of Wooden’s family had played against the Bruins. Impelman sat on the bench, right in front of the words “Nell & John Wooden Court.”

The court was not kind to the Waves. Lamond Murray Jr. led the team with 22 points. The Waves shot 38% from the field.

By the second half, UCLA’s lead had ballooned to as high as 20 points. Even with Pepperdine’s brief run, the lead was never threatened.

zach.helfand@latimes.com


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