One of Mick Cronin’s first coaching moves at UCLA paid off in a big way.
Cronin juggled his starting lineup Sunday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion, inserting forward Jalen Hill and guard Prince Ali, and they responded with productive outings during the Bruins’ 77-61 victory over UC Santa Barbara.
Hill scored a career-high 22 points amid a flurry of put-backs and dunks to go with 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. Ali triggered his team’s strong push to start the second half with back-to-back baskets after the Bruins trailed by two points at halftime. Ali finished with 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Hill received a loud ovation when he was removed from the game with 53 seconds left after nearly doubling his previous career high in points (12).
UCLA guard Jules Bernard, one of the players displaced from the starting lineup, appeared to get the message. He tied a career high with 20 points for the Bruins (2-0), who outscored the Gauchos (1-1), 45-27, in the second half.
Max Heidegger scored a team-high 21 points for UCSB, which made just seven of 22 three-pointers (31.8%) and committed nine of its 14 turnovers in the second half.
After having one steal and zero blocked shots in the first half, UCLA had a combined five steals/blocked shots in the first eight minutes of the second half. The increased defensive intensity triggered the Bruins’ 18-5 push that gave them a 50-39 lead.
UCLA trailed only 34-32 at halftime despite shooting 32.1% because the Bruins took 14 free throws to UCSB’s one and made four of eight three-pointers.
But the defensive effort that saved UCLA in its season opener was largely lacking in the first half, the Bruins repeatedly giving up open looks from beyond the three-point line. After Heidegger buried one to cap a 7-0 run that gave UCSB a 26-21 lead, a disgusted Cronin called timeout and an “Ole! Ole! Ole!” chant broke out among Gauchos fans above the team bench.
The Gauchos were probably lamenting not holding a bigger lead at the game’s midpoint, considering they made 50% of their shots and played better defense than their counterparts, collecting three steals and two blocks.
Ali and Hill replaced Bernard and forward Cody Riley in UCLA’s starting lineup. UCLA redshirt freshman forward Shareef O’Neal did not play because of a right hip pointer. He is considered day-to-day.