Nov 11, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Toreros head coach Lamont Smith reacts against the San Diego State Aztecs during the first half at Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl.
Jake Roth/Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
UCLA has talented freshmen, experienced returners and a veteran coach, but what might set the 16th-ranked Bruins apart this season is their versatility.
They went from making 18 3-pointers in a 119-80 win over Pacific in the opener last week to attacking the basket when perimeter shots weren’t falling in a 102-87 victory over Cal State Northridge in their second game Sunday.
UCLA (2-0) hosts San Diego (0-2) at 11 p.m. ET Thursday night. The Toreros, who have lost to San Diego State and Samford, don’t know how UCLA will attack them, but they know the Bruins will likely be potent.
When the Bruins struggled in the first half against Northridge, trailing 42-40 at halftime, UCLA coach Steve Alford urged his team to attack the basket more instead of settle for 3-point attempts. The tactic resulted in a 62-point second half in which the Bruins shot 58.8 percent and scored 30 points in the paint.
"At halftime, it’s what coach was drilling us about, just being able to take the ball hard to the basket and being aggressive," said UCLA junior center Thomas Welsh, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds.
UCLA made 5 of 16 3-pointers and took just six shots from beyond the arc in the second half, a contrasting style to when it attempted 30 3-pointers and made the school-record 18 against Pacific.
Two different styles. Two games with more than 100 points.
UCLA’s starting backcourt of Isaac Hamilton (22 points against Northridge) and Bryce Alford (15 of his 20 points in the second half) is an experienced complement to freshman standouts Lonzo Ball (13 points, eight rebounds and six assists) and T.J. Leaf (22 points and 15 rebounds against Pacific).
San Diego is coming off an 83-65 loss at home against Samford on Sunday. The Toreros gave UCLA a scare last year, losing 75-68 at Pauley Pavilion. They will be hard-pressed to make that kind of threat to the Bruins again.
The Toreros like to shoot the 3-pointer, like UCLA, but they made only 9 of 29 attempts against Samford. They tried seven fewer field goals within the arc, failing to solve Samford’s 2-3 zone.
"We settled for way too many threes," said guard Olin Carter III, who led San Diego with 15 points.
San Diego coach Lamont Smith, in his second year as head coach at his alma mater, is taking responsibility for how the Toreros struggled to score against Samford.
"We just didn’t execute," he said. "And that’s on me. I didn’t do a good enough (job) of communicating how we should attack their defense."
Rebounding is another concern for San Diego, which was beat on the glass 43-29 against Samford. UCLA beat Northridge on the boards 44-31 on Sunday.
San Diego point guard Nassir Barrino (14 points) was the only other Torero in double-figure scoring against Samford. He led the Toreros as well with seven rebounds.
UCLA had seven players in double figures against Northridge.
Two of the best players on San Diego’s roster are sitting out this season after transferring. Isaiah Wright is a 6-foot-2 guard out of Utah and Isaiah Pineiro is a 6-6 wing from Portland State.
While San Diego is struggling to find itself, the greatest concern for Steve Alford is finding a definitive leader among his array of talent at UCLA.
"Some of the guys aren’t fully there, fully following what we’ve got to do," said Alford, who expects Hamilton and his son Bryce Alford to eventually fill that leadership role. "I just need them to be more vocal, whether it’s in their personality or not, because we’re a fairly quiet team.
"We’re great guys. We’re just quiet. And I need somebody to rile them up a little bit."