LOS ANGELES (AP) — UCLA had its best half of the season, led by a newly aggressive Chris Smith.
The junior guard scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half to go with eight rebounds, Tyger Campbell added 15 points, and UCLA routed UNLV 71-54 on Friday night.
The Bruins (3-0) led by 22 points in the first half when they shot 48 percent from the floor and scored 18 points off the Runnin’ Rebels’ 10 turnovers.
“We had talked about getting off to a much better start,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “We tried to emphasize our energy early in the game.”
UCLA opened the game on a 19-5 run, including 14 unanswered points. Smith scored seven points and Cody Riley added four in the spurt. The Bruins reeled off another nine straight points with Smith contributing five for their largest lead of the game, 36-14.
“I didn’t force anything on the offensive end,” Smith said. “Tyger found me probably on three of my baskets in the first half. My teammates were setting good screens and moving the ball.”
Defensively, Smith had seven deflections in the first half and finished with eight rebounds, numbers that caught the eye of Cronin, who had urged Smith to up his intensity level.
“I’m a nice guy,” Smith said, smiling. “I like to dive on the floor and I just like going for the ball, man. I don’t know if I consider myself a mean guy, but I believe I’ve been more aggressive recently.”
UCLA made a season-high 10 3-pointers, led by Campbell’s three. The Bruins hit a combined 11 3s in their first two games.
“When I drive I have so many options in transition,” Campbell said. “If I drive, I have someone to kick to.”
UNLV (1-3) cut its deficit to 40-28 with a 7-0 run, including five by Bryce Hamilton, to end the half.
The Rebels got within nine on a 3-pointer by Donnie Tillman early in the second half, but they came no closer.
“Our guys kept competing, but we have to hit a shot,” new UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said.
From there, UCLA outscored the Rebels 19-8 to push its lead to 69-49. Prince Ali finished with 14 points, including UCLA’s 10th 3-pointer.
“I just felt that we got a little bit overwhelmed,” Amauri Hardy said. “Guys have to stay confident, you can’t get discouraged. When we get the chance, we have to hit the open shot.”
Tillman led the Rebels with 18 points despite four fouls. Hardy and Elijah Mitrou-Long added 13 points each. Making its first trip to Pauley Pavilion since 1998, UNLV fell to 0-6 in the all-time series.
UNLV: The Rebels have a new coach, five newcomers and were picked to finish seventh in the Mountain West this season. Still, they took Kansas State and California to overtime before losing. Their latest defeat was their third in a row. “We wanted to play a powerful schedule,” Otzelberger said. “We wanted to be challenged. Now we get to go home and play in front of our fans.”
UCLA: For the first time in three games, the Bruins led at halftime. They’ll need that kind of effort from the opening tip later this month when they travel to the Maui Invitational with a chance to face No. 5 Kansas.
Bruins freshman Jaime Jaquez Jr. played 19 minutes, his most so far. He had eight points and four rebounds.
Jaquez was scoreless playing six minutes in his debut against Long Beach State. He was scoreless again in 12 minutes against UC Santa Barbara.
The Rebels had 15 turnovers, two fewer than UCLA. But the Bruins scored 25 points off UNLV’s miscues. Hamilton had four turnovers, along with three each by Tillman and Hardy.
UNLV: Hosts Abilene Christian on Monday in the first of four consecutive home games as part of the Southwestern Showdown.
UCLA: Hosts Southern Utah on Monday in the fourth of five straight home games to start the season.
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