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UCLA Sports

UCLA steps up on defense to improve to 3-0 with 20-point win

Mark Carbone, Aaron Holiday
San Diego guard Mark Carbone fouls UCLA guard Aaron Holiday during the first half on Nov. 17.
(Michael Owen Baker / Associated Press)

UCLA’s offense had done its triple-digit thing in the season’s early going, showing itself to be a battering ram capable of piercing an opponent’s psyche in a variety of ways.

The Bruins’ game Thursday night was mostly a chance to learn about their defense.

San Diego featured the Princeton offense, designed to discombobulate even the most patient defenders with backdoor cuts and misdirection plays.

UCLA wasn’t duped. At least not often enough.

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The No. 16 Bruins slogged their way to an 88-68 victory over the Toreros at Pauley Pavilion that featured enough resistance to remain unbeaten.

When San Diego guard Mark Carbone came around a screen outside the three-point line late in the first half, he pump-faked UCLA’s Bryce Alford into the air. Carbone needed a secondary move because out stepped Bruins center Thomas Welsh, extending his right arm for one of his four blocked shots.

The Toreros also had to contend with the active hands of UCLA guard Lonzo Ball and shuffling feet of Bruins guard Aaron Holiday, preventing the frequency of uncontested layups they need to thrive. UCLA blocked nine shots and held San Diego to 33.3% shooting.

“I thought we grew defensively a little bit tonight against a team that plays a little bit different system and style than we do,” said UCLA Coach Steve Alford, who praised his team’s perimeter defense and ability to stop dribble drives without fouling.

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It was no surprise the Bruins (3-0) failed to reach 100 points for the first time this season given their own horrid outside shooting and a pace befitting former UCLA and current San Antonio Spurs guard Kyle Anderson, who was shown seated courtside on the scoreboard video screen. His nickname is “Slow Mo” because of his deliberate style.

Bruins freshman power forward T.J. Leaf put some verve into the drowsy proceedings early in the second half, dunking four times in the first 61/2 minutes.

“We wanted to try to give it to them inside a little bit,” said Leaf, who finished with a career-high 26 points and 10 rebounds to lead six Bruins in double-figure scoring. “They were tough but undersized a little bit, so we really wanted to make our presence around the basket and I think we did that.”

UCLA needed the easy baskets because it missed its first 12 three-point attempts before Holiday and Ball made back-to-back shots from beyond the arc midway through the second half. Ball was strong across the board with 13 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Welsh also contributed in a variety of ways with 12 points and 11 rebounds in addition to his blocks.

But the Bruins made five of 22 three-pointers and have made only 10 of 38 shots from beyond the arc over their last two games after making 18 of 30 in their season opener.

UCLA tinkered a bit with a full-court press and some zone defense in an apparent nod to playing an overmatched opponent. Forward Brett Bailey finished with 22 points for the Toreros (0-3), who kept things reasonably close by making 10 of 31 three-pointers and grabbing 14 offensive rebounds.

Any analysis of UCLA’s defense will be incomplete until freshman forward-center Ike Anigbogu, the team’s best interior defender, makes his season debut. Anigbogu could return as soon as Sunday against Long Beach State from knee surgery that has sidelined him since last month.

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UP NEXT

Sunday vs. Long Beach State, 7 p.m., Pauley Pavilion, Pac-12 Networks — The 49ers (1-3) are in the midst of what seems like an annual brutal stretch in their schedule, having lost to North Carolina, Louisville and Wichita State. Long Beach State’s victory came in its season opener against Cal State Los Angeles.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch


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