Following a handful of close games to open the season, the UCLA men’s basketball team was finally able to breathe easily Monday night.

No late-game heroics or comebacks were needed as the Bruins eased to a 71-52 victory over Pepperdine at Pauley Pavilion.

It is exactly what the Bruins needed on their final tune-up before this weekend’s 76 Classic in Anaheim.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” sophomore forward Drew Gordon said. “We’re on an up right now. Hopefully we can keep going up.”

Gordon has certainly been on the rise and he continued to display improvement from a year ago, registering a team-high 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. He shot 6-of-7 from both the field and the free-throw line.

“That’s a good line,” coach Ben Howland said. “I’m really, really excited about his improvement early in the season. That’s been a real positive for us.”

Senior guard Michael Roll added 17 and sophomore guard Malcolm Lee contributed 13 for UCLA (2-1), which won its second straight game following a heart-breaking, double-overtime loss to Cal State Fullerton on opening night Nov. 16.

Guard Keion Bell led the Waves (1-3) with 22 points.

“We played very good,” Pepperdine coach Tom Asbury said. “But we broke down defensively in the second half.”

The Bruins shot 14-of-22 from the field in the second half, led by redshirt junior guard Mustafa Abdul-Hamid’s career-high 10 points. Abdul-Hamid played just eight first-half minutes, but was on the floor for much of the second half when sophomore point guard Jerime Anderson left the game due to cramps in his right leg.

“Mustafa came in and gave us good minutes,” Howland said. “Mustafa is a good shooter, he can make open shots and he showed that tonight. It’s nice to see a guy that’s been here four years get rewarded by playing well.”

Anderson, meanwhile, spent much of the second half under the southeast tunnel holding a water bottle and being stretched by team trainers.

“We’re going to force bananas down his throat,” said Howland, citing Anderson’s low levels of potassium and electrolytes.

Without the services of senior forward Nikola Dragovic, who has been suspended indefinitely, Howland summoned freshmen Brendan Lane, Mike Moser and Reeves Nelson. Each played considerable minutes and chipped in with two points apiece.

“We’re all starting to improve,” Roll said. “We’re coming along.”