After flying over 31 hours and over 16,000 thousand miles through the month of November, UCLA Men’s Basketball team returned home to Pauley Pavilion Sunday afternoon defeating UC Irvine 87-63, after getting a balanced team performance.
All five UCLA starters scored in double figures, even with the Bruins being shorthanded without Freshman guard Jaylen Hands, who sprained his left foot in UCLA’s victory over Wisconsin.
Prince Ali earned the starting spot in place of Hands and led all Bruins scorers with a career- high in 21 points, with 16 of them coming in the first half.
The redshirt sophomore guard made three 3-pointers in the first half and connected with a 3 on UCLA’s opening possession and was fouled, converting the 4-point play.
“I just treated it like any other game,” Ali said. “Come in, play defense and be aggressive.”
UCLA coach Steve Alford touched on Ali’s early spark and his aggressive mindset over the past few games, showing strong strides on the defensive end as well.
“I don’t put a lot of merit on starting but he took advantage of it,” Alford said. “He got in the starting lineup and he really took advantage. I thought he came out and was aggressive. He’s a guy who can score for us. He did that in Kansas City, so his minutes are up. I thought he showed some strides defensively, because he should be a really good defender as well. I’m very proud of Prince … He got us going, definitely, in the first half.”
After a slow start, UCLA put together their largest lead of the game with 14-point margin, 32-18, only to see the Anteaters cut their deficit to nine points at the half.
UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard, the grandson of former Bruins guard and coach Walt Hazzard, led the Anteaters with a strong run of his own, as he converted on his first four three-point attempts early in the second half to trim the gap to 45-43 with 16 minutes to play.
However, a couple possessions later, Anteaters coach Russell Turner received a technical foul that sparked a 26-9 run for UCLA, as that seemingly put the game away from there.
Aaron Holiday and Kris Wilkes were pivotal in the Bruins run, as both players chipped in with 16 and 14 points, respectively, combining for nine points from the free throw line out of 16 attempts.
“It’s always good to see the ball go through the basket for a shooter,” said Holiday. “It obviously helped us get our rhythm and just helped us keep playing hard and get to the basket for more free throws.”
The Bruins shot close to 47 percent in the second half, knocking down 17 of 24 free throws, while also taking advantage of the glass with 15 second chance points, compared to the Anteaters 6 points.
Gyorgy Goloman rounded out UCLA’s list of double-figure scorers with a career high of his own in points, posting 12 twelve points and seven rebounds, just three boards shy of a double-double.
Even with strong performances from the Bruins starters, it’s hard not to think about what the team’s true potential ceiling could be with freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill suspended indefinitely for shoplifting from a mall in China.
Jaylen Hands, who was sidelined with his sprained ankle and in a walking boot Sunday, is believed to return to the line-up rather soon.
“He strained the foot in the Wisconsin game,” Alford said. “He left, had it re-taped and came back and finished and finished very well,” Alford said. “It didn’t completely heal coming back. He’s in a boot now for precautionary reasons. Just let it heal and get better, but I don’t see it as being anything lengthy.”
Thomas Welsh took the presser to explain the team’s missing pieces, but still realized everyone has to give it their all and play hard for one another.
“I mean it’s different for sure,” said Welsh, who had his fourth double-double of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Bruins. “At the end of the day it’s just about playing the best you’re capable of with the guys we got, and just working hard, trying to play with one another and just make the most of what we have.”