UCLA shot lights out inside Pauley Pavilion Thursday evening in an 83-64 victory over the Utah Utes. UCLA senior guard Aaron Holiday, who was named to the Wooden Award midseason watch list earlier in the day, scored a team high 20 points including 4-for-4 from long-range and added six assists.
“There aren’t many who are better than him,” remarked UCLA head coach Steve Alford of Holiday. “He’s shooting at an elite level and he’s helping our young guys a lot.”
Holiday is averaging 19.4 points per game on the season. His high level of shooting efficiency as of late and leadership is permeating to his younger teammates. Like freshman guard Kris Wilkes who added 19 points, four rebounds and four steals in the win against Pac-12 opponent’s, the Utes.
“I think we started off the game real well,” said Wilkes. “We hit all the 3’s…I think that played a factor in the rest of the game. We kept going on offense and we locked up on defense.”
In the first five minutes of regulation, the Bruins nailed five three-pointers. It is the second straight game that UCLA has shot 50 percent from the three-point line.
Coach Alford incorporated zone and man-to-man defensive play-calling that forced 13 Utah turnovers. Those turnovers were converted to 21 points for the Bruins.
UCLA led by as much as 12 points in the first half. The Utes attempted to claw their way back into the game. With less than six minutes left in the first half, the Utes cut the lead to three points. The Bruins never let up. At halftime the Utes trailed by eight points, 41-33.
Holiday opened up the second half with back to back baskets. UCLA did not trail once in the game. The Bruins led by as much as 21 points with three minutes left to play in the second half.
“The ball is moving and we’re not turning the ball over,” Alford said. “Our habits are getting much, much better at valuing the ball, valuing the possessions.”
Senior Thomas Welsh was held to a season-low seven points and six rebounds on 3 for 9 from the field.
“It’s not that he got shut down, but he didn’t score what he normally does and we still find a way to win and win big,” Alford said. “It tells me again that we got some young guys who are growing and that’s good.”
Redshirt sophomore Prince Ali totaled 13 points on the evening while freshman guard Jaylen Hands exploded for 12 points that all came in the second half of the game for UCLA.
“I was just really focused on coming in and trying to keep the energy up,” Hands said.
For the Utes, David Collette led the charge with 15 points. Long Beach State transfer Justin Bibbins added 12 points for the Utes who fell to 10-6 on the season, 2-3 in Pac-12 play.
UCLA has won six out of its last seven games with the only loss at the hands of Stanford in double overtime (107-99).