LAS VEGAS – It wasn’t just the Lonzo Ball show against Ohio State.
Ball, who flirted with a triple-double for the second straight game, was relatively quiet by his lofty standards – eight points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
Instead, it was the play of the other three UCLA guards – sophomore Aaron Holiday, senior Bryce Alford and senior Isaac Hamilton – that helped catapult the No. 2 Bruins (12-0) to their 12th straight win.
Freshman forward/center Ike Anigbogu picked up his fourth foul with eight minutes to go in the second half and with junior center Thomas Welsh still out with a bruised knee, coach Steve Alford turned to old-reliable: his four-guard lineup.
“That’s the beauty of this team,” Ball said. “We’ve got a lot of different things we can go with, and it’s just another way we can get five on the court and play together.”
The four guards combined for 65, including the team’s last 21 points of the game, in the 86-73 win over the bigger Ohio State (8-3) team.
Powered by Holiday, who had 20 points, four rebounds and a game-high five steals off the bench, the Bruins used scrappy plays and nifty steals down the stretch to pull away from the Buckeyes.
In the second half, Ohio State’s Junior center Trevor Thompson snagged a defensive rebound with eight minutes left in the game, giving the Buckeyes a chance to cut into UCLA’s six-point lead.
But Hamilton stole the ball before Thompson could clear it from under the basket, grabbed an offensive rebound off his missed jumper and dished it out to Holiday who drew the foul and sunk a pair of free throws to push the lead back up to eight.
Although they shot 48.4 percent from the field, the Bruins ultimately grabbed momentum and cemented their lead by cleaning up the turnovers – just three in the second half compared with 12 in the first – with the guards’ crisper ball movement.
“It’s obviously better to get the ball moving and just be quicker out there, so most guys like them, big guards can’t really guard us,” Holiday said.
The smaller, quicker guards went head-to-head with Ohio State’s post players, keeping them off-balance with drives to the basket for easy layups and then stretching the floor for the long-range three-point shot.
The Bruins finished with a 34-32 edge in points in the paint as well as a 41-31 rebounding advantage leading to 13 second chance points.
They also made five more 3s than the Buckeyes who shot just 20 percent from beyond the arc.
“The three defense has been a lot better in the last two games and we really came into this game worried about the backboard, because this is a big, physical, rebounding team,” Steve Alford said. “We come in and out-rebound them by 10, and I think that was a key.”
Yes, Ball led the team in rebounds with a game-high nine rebounds.
But his fellow guards chipped in 14 more and added seven assists, including a Holiday to Hamilton to Ball alley-oop sequence to put the game out of reach.
— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) December 17, 2016
And with just one game to go before Pac-12 play, Steve Alford likes his chances with the guards he has.
“We have four elite guards and you have to prepare at a high level for all four of those guards,” Steve Alford said. “If we can get leads, I like our chances at the end.”