UCLA hasn’t solved all its defensive woes, but Wednesday night was a step in the right direction.
The Bruins broke through at Oregon State, earning an 82-73 victory that marked their first conference road win of the season. They did so by holding the Beavers to under 40 percent shooting for much of the game, and trailing for just 74 seconds at Gill Coliseum.
The win moved Steve Alford to 8-13 in Pac-12 road games. The third-year coach is still looking for his first conference sweep away from Pauley Pavilion — something that could happen as soon as Saturday at Oregon.
“I think it’s been all over everywhere that we’re giving up 86 points per game in Pac-12 play,” Alford said. “They know that. It’s starting to affect them a little bit and hurt them. And that’s good.”
Junior Isaac Hamilton led UCLA (12-7, 3-3) with 25 points in one of his most efficient outings of the season. The 6-foot-4 guard made 10 of his 14 shots from the floor, including half of his six attempts from beyond the arc. After an inconsistent sophomore season, the former five-star recruit has blossomed into the Bruins’ most consistent offensive threat, scoring in double figures in 15 straight games. Against Pac-12 opponents, he is averaging 19.5 points on 48.9 percent shooting.
Point guard Bryce Alford chipped in 19 points, but shot just 5 of 15 from the field.
Crucially, Oregon State’s Gary Payton II — the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year — picked up two fouls less than four minutes into the game. The Beavers sent him to the bench while holding a one-point lead. When he returned nearly 10 minutes later, they trailed by 10.
The senior still led his team with 17 points and seven assists, but OSU never regained control. When a six-point run early in the second half cut UCLA’s cushion to three, Hamilton and Aaron Holiday combined to score seven unanswered points. The Bruins led by double digits for most of the final 10 minutes, and pulled away by as much as 18.
The game also saw significant changes to the UCLA rotation, perhaps a result of Alford’s recent dissatisfaction with his team’s defense. After hinting at lineup changes last week, the coach gave 17 minutes to forward Gyorgy Goloman — who recently recovered from a stress fracture in his right leg — and 14 to junior guard Noah Allen, who had only totaled 65 minutes this season.
“He understands how to play,” Alford said of Goloman. “He’s always in the right position defensively, and he did a good job handling the middle of the zone like we wanted. So, if there was an individual who really helped (on defense), it’s him.”
Meanwhile, former four-star recruit Jonah Bolden played a season-low four minutes. The 6-foot-10 forward had been averaging 21.2 in conference play.