LOS ANGELES (AP) — The sand out of their toes and some of the egg washed from their face, UCLA returned home from the Hawaiian Islands to clean up on San Jose State on Sunday.
Freshman Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored a career-high 18 points in his second start as the Bruins returned home from a disappointing trip to Maui to earn a 93-64 victory Sunday night over the Spartans.
Jalen Hill also scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and Chris Smith added 14 points as the Bruins shot 52% from the field, including 63% percent in the first half as they began to distance themselves from a 1-2 showing at the Maui Invitational last week.
Yet for all the positives that came from a victory over a Mountain West Conference team Sunday, there is still more work to be done for the Bruins to become the kind of defensive team new head coach Mick Cronin is looking for.
“I think we’re really far,” Smith said when asked if the defense is close to a finished product. “We’re not even playing the defense that he’s known for at the moment. The biggest thing is talking on defense (and) we don’t do much of that at the moment. We just gotta get in a groove, get more comfortable and we gotta talk more and then I think we’ll start progressing towards what he wants.”
Zach Chappell scored 12 points for San Jose State (3-5), which lost its third consecutive game. The Spartans shot just 35% from the field and committed 20 turnovers. Yet, the Bruins did see flashes of what they are looking for when they didn’t have the ball.
“I think (forcing turnovers) gave us a little bit of a boost, you know, knowing we could get up into passing lanes and run the floor and get out and get dunks and layups,” Jaquez said.
UCLA opened an 18-7 lead just five minutes into the game and was never threatened. The Bruins scored 18 of the final 25 first-half points to take a 46-29 lead into the break.
The easy victory gave the Bruins the chance to use 14 players, with 12 of them scoring at least one point. Prince Ali finished 10 points.
Jaquez went 7 of 10 from the field with all three misses coming from 3-point range. He continues to get rave reviews for bringing the kind of energy to the floor that Cronin requires.
“(Maui) helped my comfort level a lot, you know, being able to play on such a big stage against really high-level teams and it made me feel a lot more comfortable,” Jaquez said. “Obviously these guys are helping me through it all. So it’s just a process of getting better every single day.”
UCLA had a 42-33 rebounding advantage and held San Jose State to nine second-chance points.
“They were just more athletic,” San Jose State head coach Jean Prioleau said. “We just couldn’t make some of those short shots. After we drove and kicked and made the pass, we had the ball in the right position but just couldn’t make it. I thought we made some plays.”
Omari Moore and Seneca Knight each had 11 points and Richard Washington scored 10 for San Jose State, which shot just 31% in the second half and went 2 of 9 from 3-point range over the final 20 minutes.
“As a team we turned the ball over too much,” Chappell said. “What we did do well is once we made the pass and concentrated on coming to the pass I thought we did a good job as a team. But 20 turnovers … we have to correct that.”
It was UCLA’s largest margin of victory this season, ahead of their 25-point victory over Chaminade on Tuesday.
“We’ve got to become a team that can stop somebody because we’re not going to get 93 (every game),” Cronin said. “It would be nice to get 93 every night, I’d be all for it, (but) I don’t know how realistic that is.”
San Jose State: The Spartans are now 0-3 against teams from the Pac-12 Conference having also lost to Arizona (87-39 on Nov. 14) and Oregon State (83-48 on Nov 27). All three were on the road. San Jose State has one more game remaining against a Pac-12 team when the Spartans play host to Stanford on Dec. 14.
UCLA: The victory was the first for the Bruins over a Division I team in a span of five games since Nov. 18 when they defeated Southern Utah. Since then, UCLA lost to Hofstra at home, fell to BYU and Michigan State at the Maui Invitational and defeated Division II Chaminade in Hawaii.
San Jose State: The Spartans will return home for a matchup with No. 15 Utah State on Wednesday.
UCLA: The Bruins are off for a week until they take on Denver of the Summit League at home Dec. 8.
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