Former UCLA guards and first-round draft picks Lonzo Ball and Aaron Holiday were in attendance Wednesday night for the Bruins’ double-digit victory over Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors.
Ball and Holiday were the primary ball-handlers for UCLA in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and they watched their successor – sophomore point guard Jaylen Hands – record a career-high 11 assists against the Hawai’i.
“As a team, we all feed off the point guard,” sophomore guard Kris Wilkes said. “When he’s making moves, making good plays, we just follow right behind him. And it’s just real hard to beat us when everybody’s working together.”
Hands has dished 20 assists in the Bruins’ last two games and is almost halfway to his assist total from last season. His next chance to add to that number will come Sunday night when UCLA (5-2) hosts Loyola Marymount (7-0).
The first half against then-No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels – in which Hands had eight assists and two turnovers to help the Bruins build a five-point halftime lead – was a breakthrough of sorts for the sophomore.
“I thought I did a really good job getting downhill and making plays,” Hands said Tuesday. “So just making that transition to doing that more and making good decisions once I get to open spots, that’s what I want to be good at.”
But Hands is still making adjustments in his first year as a true point guard expected to run a half-court offense.
Coach Steve Alford said Hands has a tendency to stand 35 feet from the basket after he gives the ball up, and one area he can improve is moving to open areas on the court where he can receive the ball and attack the defense.
Another challenge is running into never-before-seen defensive schemes.
To prevent Hands from going downhill in the pick-and-roll game, the Tar Heels switched screens and their big men sagged into the paint to mitigate any potential driving lanes. They also denied swing passes to the wing, resulting in a heavy amount of dribbling by Hands 30-plus feet from the basket.
“For me, it’s just about seeing how I can attack that better,” Hands said. “Talking to (assistant coach) Tyus (Edney) and coming up with a different game plan, I feel more confident next time that won’t happen.”
Looking at the Lions
Loyola Marymount is off to its best start in school history and was ranked No. 18 on the NCAA’s NET rankings, as of Thursday.
Coach Mike Dunlap’s squad has defeated UNLV on the road and Georgetown at a neutral site.
Guard James Batemon leads the team with 20.3 points per game. Batemon is shooting 46 percent from the floor and has made 88 percent of his free throw attempts – as of Thursday he is in the top-10 nationwide with 60 free throws taken.
But the Lions also rank No. 290 in the NCAA with an average of 15.6 turnovers per game.
Sunday’s tilt may come down to whether UCLA can avoid foul trouble and take advantage in transition against an upstart neighboring school.
“(They’re) high-confidence, (as) an LA-based school,” Alford said. “So they’re going to have a lot of energy coming in here on Sunday.”