The Bruins are 3-0 for the third consecutive season, but they had to fight through a sluggish start to get there.
After trailing late into the opening half, No. 20 UCLA men’s basketball (3-0) pulled away from Saint Francis (1-2) to claim a 95-58 victory over the Red Flash at Pauley Pavilion on Friday night.
Saint Francis opened the game with an 11-2 run thanks in part to the Bruins missing five of their first six shots, but an early substitution less than four minutes in that brought in freshman guard Jules Bernard for sophomore guard Kris Wilkes gave the team a much needed dose of energy.
From that point on, the Bruins outscored the Red Flash 34-18 to take a seven-point lead into halftime. Bernard said playing with intensity is infectious and that his main focus coming into the game was to help establish a rhythm.
“For me, the big thing’s energy, crashing the boards, playing defense,” Bernard said. “It starts with one guy, if one guy comes in and brings energy, it picks up the whole group. I thought we did a good job just playing defense, getting boards and pushing the ball in transition, and we started to get our rhythm.”
The Bruins carried the momentum into the second half, shooting a blistering 80.6 percent from the field and outscoring Saint Francis 59-29 en route to the blowout victory.
Freshman center Moses Brown led the way, scoring 23 points to go along with 14 rebounds and eight blocks. The five-star recruit also became the first UCLA freshman in program history to record three double-doubles in their first three games.
The Red Flash started the game with a heavy defensive emphasis on the 7-foot-2-inch center, but Brown said he was able to regroup after a brief stint on the bench.
“I tried to do a couple post moves, I was getting doubled a lot,” Brown said. “Coach (Steve Alford) sat me down because I wasn’t really mentally there, I wasn’t giving a lot of energy, so I got back in the game and I had to give the best, whatever I had.”
Bernard – who contributed with 18 points and eight rebounds off the bench – said he is not surprised by Brown’s hot start.
“When you have a guy like (Brown), you have to use him as much as possible,” Bernard said. “He came into the summer and he proved himself right away. We’re confident, we knew these types of games were coming, we know what he’s capable of. This is just a testament to all his hard work.”
Sophomore guard Jaylen Hands and Wilkes went scoreless on a combined 0-of-11 from the field in the first half, but Wilkes responded with a 14-point second half in which he shot 6-of-7 from the field.
Hands, however, finished the night with four points and four assists in 21 minutes.
Alford said that despite the early struggles from his two leaders, he knows that there will be times in which he will have to rely a bit more on his bench for production.
“I thought both (Hands) and (Wilkes) were in a little bit of a hurry and there are going to be nights where the ball just doesn’t go in for them,” Alford said. “You just take good shots and miss them.”
The Bruins’ bench came through for Alford on Friday night, though, posting 36 points on a combined 14-of-23 shooting.
UCLA will return to action Monday when it hosts Presbyterian.