LOS ANGELES — When Josh Smith is in the passing lanes getting steals, and leading breakaways, you know you’re having a pretty good night defensively.
That’s exactly what happened with 2:01 left in the first half. Smith didn’t score on the breakaway. He was fouled from behind, but he stayed on his feet, which is a win considering what he did when he had a breakaway just two nights ago against UC Irvine. It didn’t end nearly as well. Smith tried to take it the distance but airballed a layup before tumbling to the floor.
On Tuesday, he finished the play by making one of two free throws to give UCLA a 56-27 lead.
It was a lesson learned, similar to how the No. 13 Bruins (3-0) learned from their near defeat two nights ago to put together what head coach Ben Howland called a “fantastic first half” to cruise past James Madison (0-1), 100-70.
The Dukes traveled across the country to take on the Bruins in their first game of the season, and they looked like it. They missed five of their first six shots helping to dig an early grave.
UCLA started the game on a 10-2 run and never looked back.
Defensively, Howland challenged his team to be better guarding high screen and rolls. James Madison didn’t execute those situations nearly as effective as UC Irvine two nights ago. That’s a credit to the Bruins defense.
“The coaches, they really got on me after watching film from the UCI game just about my ball pressure or lack thereof in that game and how, basically, the defense starts with me,” said point guard Larry Drew II. “So I took it upon myself to go out there and just try to lead on the defensive end by applying more ball pressure and the rest of the guys followed that.”
They were active, forcing seven first half turnovers. They blocked four shots in the first half. Even when they weren’t blocking shots, the threat was there. The Dukes were missing layups –10 of them in the first half.
UCLA held them to 34 percent shooting in the first half and took a 63-29 lead into the locker room at halftime, scoring the most points the school has scored in a half in 15 years.
For all of the shooting woes James Madison endured, the Bruins were the exact opposite, connecting on six of seven from three-point range and shooting a scorching 68 percent from the field in the first half.
Three players reached double figures in the first 15 minutes for the Bruins, led by Jordan Adams’ 16 points off of the bench.
He continued his impressive scoring streak off of the bench, finishing the game with 25 points on seven-of-10 shooting.
Adams is the first UCLA freshman to start his career with three straight games of 20 or more points. He’s the first Bruin to score 20 or more points in three consecutive games since Arron Afflalo did it in 2007. Adams is connecting from long range, mid range, and at the foul line.
“I’m more excited about how he’s hitting his foul shots,” Howland said.
After hitting all seven of his free throws against James Madison, he’s now made 26 in a row. The UCLA record is 43 consecutive makes by Darren Collison in 2008-09.
Adams has been everything you want a sixth man to be through the first three games for Bruins. He’s come into games and immediately become instant offense, all while doing it within the flow of the game.
He’s leading the team in points with 24 per game. This is type of output many would expect from the ineligible Shabazz Muhammad but not Adams.
“I am kind of surprised, actually, to stay consistent and be playing so well, so early,” Adams said.
Norman Powell led all scorers with a career high 27 points, including 15 in the second half.
Tony Parker finished with a career high 12 points. Joshua Smith and David Wear rounded out the double figure scorers for the Bruins with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Drew II finished with seven points and a game-high 12 assists. As a team, UCLA had 27 assists on 36 made field goals.
UCLA cooled off in the second half to shoot 59 percent for the game. James Madison never led.
The Bruins will travel to Brooklyn and the new Barclays Center to take on Georgetown on Monday followed by a meeting with Georgia or No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday.