The Bruins ran by the competition in their season-opener – literally.
UCLA men’s basketball (1-0) defeated Purdue Fort Wayne (0-1) 96-71 at Pauley Pavilion on Tuesday night for its seventh straight season-opening victory, and did so with a pace rating that would have been good for second in the country last season.
The Bruins recorded 85 possessions, a significant increase over their average of 74.2 from last year. Coach Steve Alford said when the game speeds up, he believes that UCLA is capable of creating mismatches with its length and playmaking ability in the open court.
“When the game gets going up and down – and it got fast-paced – that really favored us, even though (Purdue Fort Wayne was) playing a lot of guards,” Alford said. “Because now we get in the open floor, we’re long, we’re athletic and we did some really good things that way.”
Sophomore guard Kris Wilkes set the tone early for the Bruins, scoring 15 of the team’s first 22 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Wilkes finished the night with a career-high 27 points, besting his previous high of 22.
Wilkes tested the NBA Draft waters in the offseason before deciding to return to UCLA for a second season and focus on his development. He said after the game, however, that he did not view his performance as validation for his decision.
“It’s cool, but I try not to focus on any of that,” Wilkes said. “I just want to come out here and win the game, be aggressive and lead my team to a win and tonight, it was just going for me. It went in and I’ve got to thank my teammates for giving me the ball and putting their trust in me to score.”
Sophomore guard Jaylen Hands – who also explored the possibility of the NBA – showed out with 18 points and seven assists to go along with three rebounds and a pair of steals.
Hands stepped in as the team’s starting point guard after former UCLA guard Aaron Holiday left for the NBA. Hands is also the only true point guard remaining on the roster following the season-ending ACL injury to freshman Tyger Campbell.
Despite being the lone primary playmaker on the floor for the Bruins, Hands said he felt good in his new role and credited Holiday for helping him understand the transition.
“It was good watching Aaron play last year and getting an understanding of that, but I felt like I was comfortable,” Hands said. “Trying to pick my spots and trying to get everyone else involved so I felt good about it.”
One of those players Hands got involved with was five-star freshman Moses Brown. The 7-foot-1-inch center started slow with just seven points and four turnovers in the first half, but turned things around with 12 points and eight rebounds in the second.
Brown finished the night with 19 points and 17 rebounds. He also became the first UCLA freshman to record a double-double in a collegiate debut since former Bruins guard Lonzo Ball and forward T.J. Leaf did so in November 2016 against Pacific.
Brown said he had been eager to play in a meaningful game and felt good with how everything turned out in his debut.
“I’ve been waiting for this all summer, season-opener, I’ve been looking at the schedule, marking it down day by day and we finally got out and did it,” Brown said.
UCLA returns to action Friday when it takes on Long Beach State at Pauley Pavilion.