Freshmen Leaf and Ball lead No. 16 UCLA past San Diego 88-68
LOS ANGELES (AP) Knowing San Diego lacked a solid inside presence, UCLA went after the Toreros where it hurt.
T.J. Leaf had 26 points and 10 rebounds and fellow freshman Lonzo Ball added 13 points to help the 16th-ranked Bruins win 88-68 on Thursday night.
“T.J., he can shoot it, pass it and handle it,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “That just opens up your offense even more.”
Thomas Welsh had 12 points and 11 rebounds as one of six players in double figures for the Bruins (3-0), who failed to top 100 points for the first time this season. They averaged 110.5 points in victories over Pacific and Cal State Northridge.
“Six guys got to the free throw line, six guys got rebounds and assists,” Alford said. “It enables us to stretch our offense.”
San Diego’s Brett Bailey tied his career high with 22 points and Cameron Neubauer added a career-best 14 points despite playing the second half with three fouls.
Bailey’s 3-pointer drew the Toreros (0-3) within four points early in the second half before Leaf and Ball teamed up for an entertaining offensive show.
Leaf got things started with a one-handed dunk on a give-and-go with Isaac Hamilton and followed with another one-handed jam on Ball’s assist. The highly touted freshmen reversed things, with Leaf feeding Ball for a dunk before Leaf scored inside. The Bruins had 21 assists.
“I’ve never played with this much talent around me before,” Leaf said. “It takes adjusting to get used to, but we’re starting to get used to our roles.”
Leaf kept up the theatrics with another dunk before finishing off the 16-8 run with a two-handed dunk on Ball’s alley-oop pass that extended UCLA’s lead to 58-45.
“We wanted to give it to them inside a little bit,” Leaf said. “We really wanted to make our presence around the basket and we did that.”
Consecutive baskets by Ball and a 3-pointer by Leaf pushed the Bruins’ lead to 68-52.
The Toreros couldn’t defend UCLA’s surge. Bailey and Neubauer did all of San Diego’s second-half scoring until Olin Carter III scored eight straight points with 6:13 to go.
“Our kids really competed, but against an explosive team like UCLA, we gave up so much size,” second-year San Diego coach Lamont Smith said. “They had 46 points in the paint; it was not just post-up points, but it’s what they got in the interior.”
Hamilton added 12 points and Aaron Holiday had 11 for the Bruins, who shot 52 percent.
San Diego: The Toreros face a long climb this season, having been picked to finish last in the West Coast Conference coaches’ poll. They lost by 10 points to San Diego State in their season opener and still have New Mexico State and Southern California among their non-conference games. No. 14 Gonzaga looms twice during conference play, too.
UCLA: The Bruins have an easy schedule leading up to their first big challenge of the season against No. 2 Kentucky on Dec. 3 in Rupp Arena. They also play Big Ten opponents Michigan and Ohio State in December.
If they keep winning, the Bruins figure to stay solidly in the middle of the rankings for the rest of the month. They’ll be tested much more in December with games against No. 2 Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio State and No. 4 Oregon.
San Diego: The Toreros got outrebounded 43-38, but owned a 14-7 edge on the offensive glass. ... Carter finished with 13 points. ... They made 10 3-pointers, including three each from Bailey and Carter. ... The Toreros attempted 75 field goals and 31 3-pointers.
UCLA: Leaf was 11 of 13 from the field and made all four of his free throws. ... Bryce Alford chipped in 10 points. ... All seven of the Bruins players scored. ... Ball finished with eight assists and seven rebounds. ... The Bruins made 19 of 22 free throws, and so far have been much more consistent at the line than last season. “That’s going to be crucial in tight games,” the elder Alford said.
San Diego: Hosts Nicholls State on Sunday, the first of four straight home games this month.
UCLA: Hosts Long Beach State on Sunday, the last of four consecutive home games to start the season. The Bruins are 14-1 against the 49ers.
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