With an injury-riddled rotation, Bruins’ coach Steve Alford said he wants to see his players step up and take advantage of the minutes that have become available.
“Hopefully, at some point (the injured players) get back in the mix – that’s going to help our depth,” Alford said. “But right now, I still like our depth, and during that I think a lot of young guys can get some minutes and learn.”
No. 21 UCLA men’s basketball (1-0) will return to the hardwood Friday night to host Long Beach State (0-0). The Bruins are fresh off a 25-point season-opening victory over Purdue Fort Wayne, in which a number of the team’s new additions made significant contributions – including freshman center Moses Brown.
The five-star recruit posted a 19-point, 17-rebound double-double on 9-of-10 shooting in his collegiate debut. Sophomore guard Kris Wilkes said Brown’s inside presence has added a new element to the UCLA offense that was not present last year.
“We had (center Thomas Welsh) last year, who was a great shooter, you drive to the bucket and kick it to him,” Wilkes said. “We switched it up this year and now we got (Brown) that dunks everything. So it’s pretty good when you get down to the paint, you have nowhere else to go, you just throw it up to (Brown) and it helps out a lot.”
Brown – who said he had been waiting all summer to get in a game – admitted that he had to shake off a case of the pregame jitters before feeling comfortable out on the floor in his debut.
“Being that it was a season opener, I kind of had a little bit of butterflies going in,” Brown said. “But I shook it off by the time the second half came around.”
No matter who the 49ers put on the court Friday night, Brown will have at least a 3-inch height advantage. Long Beach State also lost its top rebounder from a season ago in forward Gabe Levin, who averaged 7.2 rebounds per contest as a senior before graduating.
It took the Bruins an entire half to take advantage of the mismatch with Brown down low in the season opener, getting him only three shots, but they will have another chance to get him involved early Friday.
The man responsible for facilitating the basketball – point guard Jaylen Hands – also put together a strong performance Tuesday with 18 points and seven assists. Despite seeing growth from his second-year guard, Alford said he wants Hands to be smarter earlier in the shot clock.
“What bothered me was we got off to a good start and then we quick shot,” Alford said. “I literally don’t mind open-transition 3s, I’ve never minded that. I think analytically it’s a good thing.But playing (Purdue Fort Wayne), our whole emphasis was dominate the paint.”
Early shot selection aside, Hands turned up the pace for UCLA in the opener, leading the Bruins to a total of 85 offensive possessions, 10.8 more than they averaged last season.
Long Beach State ranked No. 51 out 363 Division I schools in pace last season, seven spots ahead of UCLA. With no contests against Power Five schools for another two weeks, the Bruins will have to rely on game speed to provide excitement.
UCLA and Long Beach State will tip off at 8 p.m.