UCLA was successful in its return to the mainland, earning its first victory over a Division I opponent Monday night with a 62-39 drubbing of Pepperdine.
But by no means were the Bruins crisp, especially to start. They managed only five points in the first 7 minutes 46 seconds of play before going on a 20-2 run midway through the first half to pull away. The Bruins, fresh off an uninspiring trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational, got their first victory at the L.A. Sports Arena and improved to 2-4 overall.
Five observations from the game:
1Perimeter defense was in sync
Suffocating pressure from starting guards Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson played a major role in Pepperdine's first-half funk. The Waves went scoreless for over five minutes and managed just one basket in a rough stretch that lasted nearly nine minutes.
UCLA gave up only 11 points in the first half, the fewest since holding Florida International to 13 in 2008.
"Our team defense wasn't even close [at the beginning of the season] to what it is now," coach Ben Howland said.
Remember, the Bruins lost their best perimeter defender when Malcolm Lee left for the NBA last spring, and they don't have another player that will fill his shoes this year. Instead, UCLA will have to be good as a unit. Jones, who had a career-high six steals, attributed the change to better communication.
"I continued to hear people talk behind me," Jones said.
2The Wear twins meshed well as a tandem
Sophomore forward Travis Wear took an inadvertent elbow that knocked out his two front teeth -- causing him to speak with a noticeable lisp during the postgame news conference -- but that didn't stop him from pegging it as his best game as a Bruin. Travis Wear had eight points, a career-high 10 rebounds and three blocks, and, before he left the court to get his mouth examined, spent a considerable amount of his minutes alongside brother David Wear, who added 10 points and a career-high seven boards.
Howland seems intent on having both on the floor at the same time, and their collective performance Monday probably won't make him stray from that strategy.
"I think we're on the right path to being a really good team," Travis Wear said.
3The Bruins excelled without Joshua Smith and Reeves Nelson
A total of 22 minutes from Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith is an alarming statistic to take from this one. The two projected frontcourt starters were afterthoughts, really.
Nelson, who hasn't made a start since the season opener, played only two minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. Smith, again plagued by the whistle, played only four minutes in the first half. The duo combined for six points and six fouls.
"They'll play better," Howland said, "I'm confident, as we move forward."
4Norman Powell has potential to wow
Former UCLA guard Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook thrived in fast-break opportunities during their time in Westwood, usually capping their runs with dazzling moves near the rim.
Freshman Norman Powell might be UCLA's next can't-blink-when-he-has-the-ball player. He had a flashy dunk late in the first half that drew a surprisingly loud response from the 3,885 in attendance. Powell also added a pair of 3-pointers and notched a career-high with 10 points.
5Lazeric Jones bounced back
Jones appeared to regain his shooting touch, scoring a team-high 14 points Monday following his 0-for-5 performance in the Maui finale against Michigan. The Bruins will need similar efforts from him the rest of the season, and Jones knows it.
"I feel like sometimes you've got to get a win to know how to win," Jones said. "To see us go out there and play hard, it showed us what we need to do to win."