The Bruins are back in Pauley Pavilion for a four-game homestand.
UCLA men’s basketball (4-2) and Hawai’i (4-3) will play Wednesday night, with both teams having a chance to stop two-game losing streaks. UCLA dropped both games at the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational last week, and Hawai’i followed up its 90-79 win over Utah (3-3) with back-to-back losses to Seton Hall (4-2) and Fresno State (3-2) at the Wooden Legacy.
Coach Steve Alford said he was not disappointed with his team’s effort, but rather their inability to play together as a team.
“We got smacked in the face, we learned a lot of lessons in Vegas,” Alford said. “Our energy and our effort – I think that’s been very good – it’s just been more of our concentrated mindset and that’s what is hard for young players.”
And while UCLA has 13 underclassmen on its roster, Hawai’i has just eight – only one of which is averaging more than 20 minutes per game. Sophomore guard Kris Wilkes – who scored 22 points in the Bruins’ loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels (6-1) on Friday – said that more experienced teams, like the Rainbow Warriors, are typically tougher to match up with.
“They’ve been around, it’s not so much … that they just have one move and you just block it and (they) keep going to it for the next play,” Wilkes said. “They keep working, they play hard, they play harder than some of these other teams, so they’re good.”
The Tar Heels – who came back from an 11-point first-half deficit to beat the Bruins by 16 – are also a veteran-heavy team, led by forward Luke Maye. The senior has averaged 16.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game since becoming a starter last year, and he scored 12 points and grabbed six boards in the second half against UCLA.
Alford said he was looking forward to getting a chance to bounce back this week, and that while winning is his first priority, he is especially looking forward to how his younger players will grow.
“We’ve got 80 minutes of play with Hawai’i and (Loyola Marymount), two really good basketball teams that we get a chance to compete against and show growth,” Alford said. “Obviously, winning is the ultimate goal, and that’s what we want.”
Sophomore guard Jaylen Hands has upped his turnovers per 40 minutes from 2.9 last year to 4.1 this year, with 11 giveaways in his last three games. However, Hands said he had some positive takeaways from the weekend that he wanted to carry over into the game against Hawai’i.
“There should always be a sense of urgency, but for me, what I want to see (is) me carrying over habits from the last game,” Hands said. “So even if we’re winning, I want to be able to carry over habits, stuff that we know that will translate into a game against a top-10 team.”
Hands had eight assists in the first half against the Tar Heels, something redshirt freshman forward Cody Riley said was nice to play with.
“(Hands) can really distribute the ball when he puts his mind to it and I was glad to have him on my side,” Riley said. “He was really passing the ball well and leading us and communicating with us – I think he did a great job with that.”
UCLA and Hawai’i tip off at 6 p.m. Wednesday night.
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