UCLA men’s basketball trounces UNLV to start season on 3-game win streak
Junior guard Chris Smith led UCLA men’s basketball in scoring for the first time this season, dropping a season-high 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field. Smith also recorded eight rebounds and two steals. (Niveda Tennety/Assistant Photo editor)
By Sam Connon
Nov. 15, 2019 11:08 p.m.
Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati teams were known for their defense.
The coach brought that defensive style to Westwood, and the Bruins used it to their advantage Friday night.
UCLA men’s basketball (3-0) defeated UNLV (1-3) 71-54 in its first wire-to-wire victory of the season. Utilizing an early 14-0 run, the Bruins never trailed and held a double-digit lead for a total of 33 minutes and 29 seconds on the night.
But UCLA didn’t just build its lead by scoring – it did so by capitalizing off turnovers.
The Bruins forced the Runnin’ Rebels into 10 first-half turnovers, turning them into 18 points on the other end. UCLA recorded five blocks and five steals in the opening frame after picking up one steal and zero blocks in the first half against UC Santa Barbara on Sunday.
The 54 Rebel points were the fewest the Bruins have allowed in a game since Dec. 31, 2017, against Washington, when UCLA won 74-53.
Redshirt senior guard Prince Ali led the Bruins with four steals Friday, scoring a season-high 14 points in the process.
“I told (Ali) he’s got to give us leadership,” Cronin said. “I’m a big believer that in the great programs – I don’t care if you’re a young team – you’ve got to have a veteran, you got to have somebody leading you. You don’t have to lead your team in scoring, but you have to lead us in focus, toughness, competitiveness.”
Ali also drilled multiple 3-pointers for the first time this season – finishing the game 2-of-6 from deep – but he wasn’t the only UCLA player to help out from long range.
Three of the Bruins’ first four field goals were 3s, and they ended the first half 6-of-14 from beyond the arc. Ali, junior guard Chris Smith, redshirt freshman guard Tyger Campbell and freshman guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. all hit two or more 3-pointers, something Campbell said makes running the point easier.
“It’s great because it just means when I drive, … I have so many options in transition it just really opens up the court,” Campbell said. “(The defender will) either help and I’ll kick, or they won’t help and I’ll get a layup, so it’s just reading it.”
In addition to leading the team with 16 points – 14 of which came in the opening half – Smith co-led UCLA with eight rebounds. Smith’s performance on the boards marked the third game in a row with a Bruin wing picking up eight rebounds after sophomore guard Jules Bernard did so against UC Santa Barbara and Smith did it in the season opener against Long Beach State.
“(Rebounding) was one of the major points in this game,” Smith said. “(UNLV) is the most athletic team we’ve played so far. … They had big guys crashing every time – just like us – so we just had to box out and defend, and balls bounce your way when you do both of those.”
Smith said one of his favorite parts of playing basketball is diving for loose balls – seen in his six first-half deflections – but Cronin said he still wants to see more effort out of the junior moving forward.
“For most of these guys, the change I want to see is the intensity level – (Smith) especially,” Cronin said. “He’s one of the nicest guys of all time, but laid back doesn’t cut it between the lines. Laid back is OK, I guess, if you’re a fisherman.”
The Bruins led by as many as 22 points in the game, the largest lead they have held this season.
UCLA will next suit up for Maui on the Mainland, hosting Southern Utah on Monday and Hofstra on Thursday to wrap up its season-opening five-game homestand.