UCLA head coach Ben Howland could be heard in the highest corridors of Pauley Pavilion, all the way into the tunnels, the screams reverberating deep into the hearts of the Bruins.
“Push!” he screamed. “Push! Push!”
Their coach sounding more like an obstetrician than a basketball coach, the Bruins heeded his advice, chasing the Cal State Northridge Matadors out of the building with a 83-50 win.
Maybe they chased away their demons, too.
“We’ve put last year behind us,” Howland said. “Maybe it’s a motivator that we had such a poor year. But I’m not thinking about last year right now. We’re moving on.”
Last season, the Bruins fell hard and they fell fast and they fell so far down that they barely resembled a program that has won 11 national championships, much less one. A 14-18 season included losses to Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton.
They weren’t about to let similar embarrassment strike again.
UCLA came out with tremendous energy, flustering the Matadors into poor passing and even poorer shooting. With impressive length in the interior, the Bruins could afford to take chances on the perimeter, and they worked.
CSUN shot just three-of-19 from the field to start the game with 12 first-half turnovers, while UCLA jumped to a 27-9 lead midway through the half. The Bruins continued to choke out the Matadors, stretching the lead to as many as 42 in the second half.
“I thought our defense was good,” Howland said. “We did a really good job early in the game. We doubled the post, and really took them out. … It’s hard; one reason I’m so happy is we have this young team, 22 practices, and we have so much more to put in.”
If the Matadors couldn’t shoot a fish in a barrel, UCLA took a bazooka and smashed the barrel into smithereens.
The Bruins shot 13-of-16 to start the game on their way to a 57-percent effort, with Reeves Nelson leading the way.
Nelson had 17 points as he thrived in transition, working the passing lanes alongside Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee.
Honeycutt added 16 points and six rebounds, but junior transfer point guard Lazeric Jones had an important 15 points and four assists, effectively mixing aggressiveness to the basket with a keen sense for the pass.
“I was trying my best to be aggressive today,” Jones said. “I feel that when I’m aggressive, I’m a little more effective. When I’m laid back, coach gets on me. He wants me more aggressive.”
It was not all sunshine and roses in UCLA’s debut, though, and Howland screamed just as much about the Bruins’ decision-making as their up-tempo game.
UCLA committed 22 turnovers – seven by Honeycutt alone – though they forced 27 by CSUN.
“Some of them, I didn’t think we’re turnovers – the double-dribble, the three-second call – but a lot of them I was going for the home-run pass,” Honeycutt said. “I was trying to get the crowd going ‘Oohee’ a little more. I’ll tone it down for the next game.”