Men’s basketball lassos win over Gauchos in second-half comeback
Sophomore guard Jules Bernard scored 20 points and hauled in eight rebounds in UCLA men’s basketball’s Sunday afternoon victory over UC Santa Barbara. Both marks tied career-highs for Bernard, who also led the Bruins with three 3-pointers in the game. (Tanmay Shankar/Assistant Photo editor)
|UC Santa Barbara||61|
By Sam Connon
Nov. 10, 2019 7:29 p.m.
This post was updated Nov. 11 at 9:48 p.m.
Almost six minutes into the Bruins’ Sunday afternoon matchup with the Gauchos, they had scored just five points.
But in the first six minutes of the second half, the Bruins scored 18 points and were able to run away with the victory.
UCLA men’s basketball (2-0) defeated UC Santa Barbara (1-1) 77-61, outscoring its opponent by 18 in the second half after heading into the locker room down 34-32. There were eight lead changes in the first half, but only one in the second – redshirt senior guard Prince Ali picked up a steal and scored four points in a row to open the frame and give the Bruins a lead they would hold onto for the remainder of the night.
“I thought (Ali) came out and changed the game with his effort coming out of the locker room,” said coach Mick Cronin.
Ali’s four points early in the half were the start of a comeback Cronin said the Bruins desperately needed after coming out flat in the first.
“We let (UCSB) get comfortable, and you should not let teams come into your gym and get comfortable,” Cronin said. “We did not try to take anything away from them in the first half. That’s an effort thing, so I challenged our guys to come with the effort that I’m accustomed to.”
But Ali wasn’t the only one to make consecutive baskets early in the second half.
Redshirt sophomore forward Jalen Hill followed up Ali’s four straight points with seven of his own. And after Hill’s scoring tear was done, junior guard Chris Smith rattled off five straight points by himself, giving UCLA a nine-point lead with 15 minutes to play.
The Gauchos were able to stay within single digits for the majority of the second half, but Hill’s performance on the boards and around the basket helped the Bruins stave off a late comeback.
“(Hill) and I have had a lot of talks (about) the things that backups do and the things that starters do,” Cronin said. “Being able to be mentally focused and responsible throughout an entire game is a new thing for him. And then his athleticism and his size becomes a factor if he can do that.”
Hill scored 17 of his career-high 22 points in the second half, with 12 of them coming on second chances. His eight offensive rebounds were a career-high as well and he turned six of them into layups.
The Bruins’ second-leading scorer and rebounder in the game was sophomore guard Jules Bernard, who poured in 20 points of his own while tying his career high with eight rebounds.
Bernard said rebounding from the guard position has historically been an integral part of Cronin’s coaching style, something that hasn’t changed in Westwood.
“(Cronin’s) teams in the past, a lot of his guards crash the boards,” Bernard said. “Point guard gets back, but those two and three guards, they crash the board and that’s one of my things that I’ve always been good at ever since high school, so it feels natural.”
Ali and Smith were the two other Bruins who were able to break into double-digits scoring, marking the second game in a row UCLA had four men score 10 or more.
But Smith said it wasn’t the scoring that helped the Bruins run away with the game late – it was the defense.
“We picked up our energy and our whole team’s disposition was different in the second half,” Smith said. “And it was all because of defensive deflections, and that energy transferred over to our offense.”
Cronin has previously said UCLA has a 95% chance to win when it tops 40 deflections as a team. The Bruins tallied just five in the first half but turned things around by deflecting 17 balls in the second, something Cronin said helped slow down an experienced Gaucho offense.
“They’re a hard team to turn over because they’re a veteran team, they have veteran guards,” Cronin said. “I thought the defensive intensity definitely changed and we actually made a few shots. It’s easier on the coach – you don’t have to draw up the basket.”
UCLA has four days off before its home matchup with UNLV at 8 p.m. on Friday.