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UCLA stays unbeaten with 98-56 win over UC Riverside

UCLA stays unbeaten with 98-56 win over UC Riverside
UC Riverside forward Secean Johnson, right, shoots as UCLA forward TJ Leaf defends during the first half on Wednesday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Another late start came with a bonus for UCLA. There was an early end to any drama.

Bruins students had barely finished waving two hands at UC Riverside and deriding the Highlanders as the "loooooosing team" as part of their pregame ritual when the game was essentially decided.

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UCLA scored the game's first seven points and was already ahead by double digits at the first timeout. Everything else was just fodder for the box score during the  No. 11 Bruins' 98-56 victory over the Highlanders on Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion.

Even UCLA's lulls felt like they weren't endangering anything besides the Bruins' ego after their strong start.

"You've got to let teams know this is Pauley Pavilion, this is our place, this is our house," UCLA Coach Steve Alford said. "From the tip, I think it's important to impose what we're trying to do."

Those who stuck around for the gory finish were treated to a few of the best plays, including UCLA guard Lonzo Ball dunking an alley-oop pass from fellow freshman T.J. Leaf before quickly returning the favor by rifling a one-handed pass to Leaf sprinting into the paint for a two-handed dunk.

Guard Isaac Hamilton made seven of 12 three-pointers on the way to 27 points for the Bruins (8-0), who matched their best start since the 2013-14 season, Alford's first with the team. Leaf had a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds and Ball finished with a UCLA freshman-record 13 assists to go with five points after he took only three shots.

"I just take what the game gives me," Ball said, "and today the passing lanes were open."

It was a big night for the Ball brothers, Lonzo's younger brother LiAngelo finishing with 72 points for Chino Hills High during a blowout victory.

"I'll probably call him and tell him he did all right," Lonzo said of his sibling, who has also signed with UCLA. "Seventy-two points, that's a lot for one kid."

The Bruins were also nearly scoring at will, allowing Alford to clear his bench in the final minutes and create one final highlight. Reserve guard Alec Wulff made back-to-back three-pointers, tying his career total in that category entering the game. The crowd was ready to erupt when Wulff's third attempt from beyond the arc fell short.

Forward Secean Johnson scored 17 points for the Highlanders (1-4), who never recovered after making one of their first 14 shots.

UCLA's offense hummed at high efficiency in the first half, the Bruins' 18 baskets coming largely on the strength of 14 assists.

There were the typical UCLA flourishes, guard Bryce Alford flipping a one-handed pass to a cutting Ball, who flipped the ball once more to Thomas Welsh for a short jumper. There was also brute force, Leaf backing down Brandon Rosser before rising for a jump hook.

Those who preferred defense weren't left disappointed either. Leaf scooted back on defense after a turnover to contest not one but two shots by Johnson before grabbing the rebound. UCLA guard Aaron Holiday leaped to deflect an inbounds pass near midcourt to himself for a layup. Holiday finished with 18 points and five assists.

Steve Alford had described the matchup as "a dangerous game" earlier this week, noting it was sandwiched between his team's victory in the Wooden Legacy and a game against top-ranked Kentucky on Saturday at famed Rupp Arena.

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There was no need to worry. The Bruins were ahead, 42-27, at halftime and led by as many as 43 points in the second half.

UCLA’s next challenge could present very real danger. Unbeaten Kentucky just routed Arizona State by 46 points and is averaging 95.6 points per game, a tick below the Bruins’ 97.0 points per game.

"They run the floor as well as anybody," Steve Alford said of the Wildcats. "It's kind of our identity too."

Twitter: @latbbolch

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