LOS ANGELES (AP) UCLA sustained several blows in the first half against Cal State Northridge, then delivered a knockout punch in the second half.
That’s the way UCLA coach Steve Alford saw it as a poor first half, muddied by turnovers and missed shots, had the Bruins trailing at halftime. The No. 16 Bruins scored 62 second-half points and struck first, early and often as they dominated Cal State Northridge 102-87 on Sunday night.
Freshman Lonzo Ball made a 3-pointer and went coast-to-coast with a one-handed dunk to start a span of seven consecutive points by UCLA. The Bruins took a 47-42 lead.
“How he started the second (half), he was a heavyweight fighter ready to knock you out,” Alford said. “How we started the first half, we wanted to rope-a-dope. We don’t have anybody in our locker room that’s Muhammad Ali. They don’t understand the rope-a-dope. They’re too young. We wanted to come out throwing punches first and early and I didn’t think we did that. It’s not necessarily their fault. It’s a learning process.”
Isaac Hamilton had 22 points, and Bryce Alford 20.
The Bruins had 20 turnovers, which was troubling, but used an improved second-half shot selection and made 58.8 percent of their shots compared to just 39.4 percent in the first half.
“They came in with a chip on their shoulders,” Hamilton said. “Being ranked, a lot of teams will do that and play hard. What we have to do, and Coach says, first five minutes, you have to throw the first punch and continue from there and let the momentum swing our way.”
UCLA (2-0) had 11 turnovers in first half, shot 39.4 percent from the field and trailed 42-40.
Kendall Smith scored 21 points for the Matadors (1-1). Aaron Parks and Tavrion Dawson each added 18 points.
“I told the guys, if you believe in yourself and we can play this hard every night and push the ball with this type of energy, we’re going to win a lot of basketball games,” Cal State Northridge coach Reggie Theus said. “The hard thing about nonconference games, and we have a really tough nonconference schedule, is that you can play well and still lose. This game was probably won in a matter of 5-8 minutes where it got out of hand for us.”
Cal State Northridge has beaten UCLA just one time in the 10-game series history, but in the game’s first 20 minutes it appeared the Matadors could do it again. The Matadors beat the Bruins 78-74 in Pauley Pavilion on Nov. 22, 2000, almost 16 years ago. CSUN would go on to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history that season.
Cal State Northridge: This is just what Theus – the former NBA player and coach – wanted in terms of a test by scheduling difficult preseason road games. Playing difficult opponents should serve the Matadors well in terms of confidence and better prepare them to try to contend for a Big West Conference title.
UCLA: The Bruins took a step backward in struggling against the Matadors for 20 minutes. Their undisciplined play resulted in turnovers and those mistakes must be cleaned up before the Pac-12 schedule starts. The Bruins executed much better offensively in the second half and made the right adjustments.
CSUN Guard Kendall Smith, a transfer from UNLV, played well against the Bruins and had 12 of his 21 points in the second half. Smith, who is in his second season with CSUN but first full season, had several fastbreak, uncontested dunks, including two in the first half that propelled CS Northridge to the halftime lead.
“That’s the mindset we’ve got to have. I don’t know if … any of our other guys had that mindset to start the game. That’s kind of the mindset you learn. You’re not going to go from one game to the next and score 119 points again and win by close to 40. It doesn’t work that way. These are all learning things. We’ll get it.” – Alford on how the Bruins went from a 39-point win in their first game to trailing at halftime in their second.
UCLA didn’t do itself any favors by trailing at halftime against Cal State Northridge, but the Bruins pulled away in the second half and shouldn’t lose any ground with a 15-point victory.
Cal State Northridge continues its tough preseason schedule with a second consecutive road game at a Pac-12 school on Tuesday night at Stanford.
UCLA has several days off before hosting San Diego on Thursday, the third of four consecutive home games in a friendly stretch at Pauley Pavilion to start the season.