UCLA Coach Steve Alford had seen enough.
After consecutive losses in which the Bruins gave up 86 points apiece, Alford inserted sophomore forward Jonah Bolden into the starting lineup for Saturday’s game against the Washington State Cougars, hoping to spruce up what he called a “slow” frontcourt. The move paid off in a big way with a 83-50 win at Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins (13-9, 4-5 in the Pac-12) were particularly impressive on the defensive end after swapping in Bolden for senior big man Tony Parker. They forced 18 Washington State turnovers while holding the Cougars (9-12, 1-8) to 18 of 54 shooting (33.3%), including just seven of 25 in the first half (28%) and five of 24 from beyond the arc. The 33-point margin of victory was UCLA’s largest this season.
“I thought the guys did a really good job,” Steve Alford said. “Probably our best 40 minutes that we’ve had all year.”
The Bruins found their stride on offense in the second half, spurred by the play of Isaac Hamilton, who led all scorers with 22 points, while adding six assists and four rebounds. He had a number of impressive baskets, including a floater off a Euro Step, a three-point play on a dunk, and back-to-back three-point field goals from opposite sides of the court. For a two-minute stretch, Hamilton outscored the Cougars by himself, 11-0.
“Coach emphasized playing with passion and a sense of urgency,” Hamilton said. “I think tonight that’s what we did.”
Junior guard Bryce Alford finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and four assists, doing most of his damage from the free-throw line, where he was seven for seven. He had five field-goal attempts — his lowest mark of the season — and didn’t officially register a shot from the floor for the opening 10 minutes. But he picked his spots effectively, contributing five straight points as part of a 10-0 second-half run by UCLA that put the game out of reach.
“Bryce is a great player, he makes plays for everybody else,” Hamilton said. “Regardless of him taking five shots or 15, it doesn’t matter. He still has an effect.”
Bolden, meanwhile, only converted one of seven shots, but with Hamilton and Alford pacing the offense, he wasn’t needed in that capacity. Instead, he gave Coach Alford the defensive flexibility he was looking for, especially against the Cougars’ leading scorer and rebounder, Josh Hawkinson. The junior forward picked up his third foul with 6:33 remaining in the first half and was held in check for the majority of the game. He ended up with seven points and six rebounds, a far cry from Washington State’s Jan. 3 victory against UCLA, when Hawkinson accounted for 20 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and three steals.
“I told the team that I think he’s as good as any four that’s in this league,” Steve Alford said of Hawkinson. “We did a good job on him tonight, and Jonah [Bolden] had a lot to do with that.”
In his new role, Parker added 11 points off the bench. He played 18 minutes, down 10 minutes from his season average, but Coach Alford was still pleased with his effort.
“When your senior goes to the bench for the betterment of the team, and comes in and plays the way he played, I really appreciate that,” Steve Alford said. “I thought he was terrific tonight.”
Coach Alford didn’t say whether the lineup switch would be here to stay, noting that nothing is “permanent,” but he did indicate he prefers to play “stretch fours instead of two centers.” One of the players directly affected by that decision, sophomore big man Thomas Welsh (10 points, 10 rebounds) seemed to agree.
“I think it went really well,” Welsh said. “We’re definitely more athletic with Jonah in the game. It’s definitely different, but I think it’s going to be helpful for us going forward being more efficient.”
Follow Alex Shultz on Twitter @AlexShultz