This is not last year's UCLA basketball team.
The Bruins delivered that message loud and clear during the first five minutes of their 83-50 season-opening romp over Cal State Northridge Friday night at Pauley Pavilion.
A 15-0 UCLA run started the game and UCLA extended that lead to 37-9 with 6:21 left in the first half, signaling the beginning of a new era of Bruins basketball.
“We all have a different mindset this year,” said forward Reeves Nelson, who had a game-high 17 points. “We wanted to come out in our first official game and show everybody what we’re about this year.”
Last year’s season opener set a different kind of tone. The Bruins suffered an embarrassing double-overtime loss to Cal State Fullerton last Nov. 16, the beginning of a 14-18 season that UCLA is more than happy to leave in the rear view mirror.
This team is determined to make amends for that disappointing season and the common goal has united the squad. Team chemistry, a struggle with the team last year, has become a strength and has given the team a winning attitude.
“After the year we had last year…everybody knows it’s all business this year,” Nelson said.
Coach Ben Howland, unsure of what to expect from a young team as the season began, left Friday’s game impressed with how far the team has come in such a short time. He pointed to the team’s 19 assists against Northridge as a sign of a team that has grown.
“I’m really happy about our team,” Howland said. “When you consider how young we are—we don’t have a senior on the club and we have a lot of guys are playing major minutes for the first time—I’m very pleased. We have a lot of room to improve, but our talent level and their attitude and their unity and the fact that they really like each other is really going to bode well for us as we progress.”
Some of the new pieces to UCLA’s puzzle this season showed that they can help elevate the level of the team. Point guard Lazeric Jones, a junior college transfer, broke out in a big way with 15 points and four assists in his Division I college debut. He scored seven of those points during the opening run.
Freshman center Josh Smith had nine points and seven rebounds. Redshirt freshman Anthony Stover had four blocked shots and freshman guard Tyler Lamb had seven points and four assists.
“I’m very pleased to get this one under our belt and grow from it and we’ll go watch the film and try to get better,” Howland said.