This post was updated Jan. 11 at 11:08 p.m.
It wasn’t until their sixth shot Thursday night that the Bruins finally missed.
Even then, they grabbed the offensive rebound and promptly scored.
UCLA men’s basketball (13-4, 4-1 Pac-12) never trailed en route to an 83-64 home victory over Utah (10-6, 2-3) on Thursday night, with the Bruins putting forth a commanding offensive performance for the second consecutive game.
The Bruins built the energy in Pauley Pavilion early, scoring on their first seven possessions, and finished the game shooting 51.8 percent from the field, including 12-for-23 from 3-point territory. They turned the ball over just eight times while scoring 21 points off takeaways of their own, delighting the crowd with several fast-break dunks.
“I thought we played really well,” said coach Steve Alford after the win. “We were active defensively. I thought offensively, it was a game where we took care of the ball, we took good shots and we made them.”
It marked the second straight game that UCLA eclipsed 50 percent shooting after the team had done so just three times in its first 15 contests.
“The ball is moving and we’re not turning the ball over,” Alford said. “Our habits are getting much, much better at valuing the ball, valuing the possessions.”
Senior center Thomas Welsh scored just seven points, but the Bruins’ guards picked up the slack.
Junior guard Aaron Holiday led the Bruins with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting and freshman guard Kris Wilkes added 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Holiday drilled all four of his 3-point attempts, while Wilkes connected on three of his five long-range looks.
Freshman guard Jaylen Hands tallied 12 points, all in the second half, and redshirt sophomore guard Prince Ali poured in 13 points to go with a career-high nine rebounds.
The opening offensive flurry, which included five 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the game, helped the Bruins jump out to an early 12-point lead.
“We started off the game real well – we hit all the 3s to start off and I think that played a factor in the rest of the game,” Wilkes said. “We kept going on offense and we locked up on defense.”
UCLA’s offense would cool some and Utah hung in the game by pounding the ball inside in the first half, racking up 20 points in the paint to trim the deficit to eight points at halftime.
But, just as they did in the first half, the Bruins opened the second half on a roll, increasing their advantage to 15 points within the first four minutes of the period.
The flashiest play of the game came during that stretch, when freshman guard Kris Wilkes grabbed a steal and then sprinted the floor to slam home an alley-oop from redshirt sophomore guard Prince Ali.
“I thought those four-minute segments were huge – how we started (the game), how we closed the half and then how we started the second half,” Alford said. “Those are things you’ve got to do.”
Defensively, UCLA rotated between man and zone coverages and pressed at times as well. The changes in scheme helped keep the Bruins locked in on that end of the floor, Holiday said.
“(You) have to pay attention to whatever is called,” Holiday said. “So it just keeps us focused and more up-tempo, I guess.”
Holiday, who was selected earlier in the day to the midseason watch list for Wooden Award, which is given to the country’s most outstanding player, is averaging 23.8 points per game on 52.8 percent shooting through the first five games of Pac-12 play.
“He’s controlling the game now,” Alford said. “I thought he started the season slow shooting the basketball – (now) that thing is going in at the level it was going in his first two years. He’s shooting at an elite level now.”
He’s far from the only Bruin to find his stroke recently. Wilkes is shooting 51.7 percent and averaging 17.6 points in Pac-12 play, while Ali and Hands are each averaging double figures as well to start the conference schedule.
“We’ve known all along that we’ve got guys who can make shots as long as we take good shots,” Alford said. “(Now) we’re sharing the basketball and we’re taking good shots.”