LOS ANGELES — Prince Ali was given an opportunity to crack the starting lineup at UCLA. Bruins coach Steve Alford doesn’t put much weight into who starts and who doesn’t but rather puts stock in the contributions from his players.
It was clear Ali took much pride in the starting nod. He scored 16 of his career-high 21 points in the first half and No. 23 UCLA beat UC Irvine 87-63 on Sunday.
“I just wanted to come in, play defense and be aggressive,” Ali said.
Ali earned the start in place of the injured guard Jaylen Hands, who sprained his left foot sprain in UCLA’s victory over Wisconsin. Ali helped the Bruins (5-1) improve to 3-0 at Pauley Pavilion.
Two days earlier, Ali learned he would start. He didn’t appear to have a case of nerves, either. Asked how to evaluate his performance, he said: “I think I played pretty well.”
Alford was pleased with Prince, who played 33 minutes. Only starting point guard Aaron Holiday played more (36 minutes).
“I don’t put a lot of merit on starting but he took advantage of it,” Alford said. “He got in the starting lineup and he really took advantage. I thought he came out and was aggressive. He’s a guy who can score for us. He did that in Kansas City, so his minutes are up. I thought he showed some strides defensively, because he should be a really good defender as well. I’m very proud of Prince … He got us going, definitely, in the first half.”
Ali redshirted last year after having knee surgery. The sophomore guard Ali made three 3-pointers in the first half. He hit a 3 on UCLA’s opening possession and was fouled, converting the 4-point play. He made an assortment of shots from outside, inside and shots in transition.
“That’s what he does,” senior Thomas Welsh said. “He got the start, and he was huge. Scoring around the basket, taking 3s, that’s what you expect from him as a third-year guy. We have a lot of confidence in him. He played really well.”
Hands, who averages 12 points, was in a walking boot on the bench. A UCLA spokesman said he is listed as day-to-day.
“He strained the foot in the Wisconsin game,” Alford said. “He left, had it re-taped and came back and finished and finished very well,” Alford said. “It didn’t completely heal coming back. He’s in a boot now for precautionary (reasons). Just let it heal and get better, but I don’t see it as being anything lengthy.”
UCLA beat Wisconsin 72-70 on Holiday’s last-second layup to finish third in the Hall of Fame Classic. Holiday had 16 points and seven assists against UC Irvine, and the Bruins didn’t need any last-minute heroics in this one.
It was close early in the second half as the Anteaters (3-5) pulled within two twice before UCLA pulled away in the second half with a 12-2 run and 57-45 lead.
Welsh had his fourth double-double of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds for UCLA.
Max Hazzard led UC Irvine with 18 points.
Irvine coach Russell Turner was called for a technical foul with 13:57 left in the game and UCLA leading 47-43. The Bruins went on their run from there. Welsh made both technical free throws, the start of eight consecutive points for UCLA.
“I’m very proud of my team, but I’m not proud of the score,” Turner said. “I’m proud of my team, especially how we performed to start the second half. I felt like the technical foul changed the game. I’m very disappointed about that, so I’m kind of at an emotional state in terms of evaluating this game. I’m not sure why I got that “T” because I was never warned. It was appropriate but not necessary.”
UC Irvine: The reigning Big West Conference regular-season champion was within two points in the second half two times. The Anteaters should glean much from guarding Pac-12 players on the road and use that in conference play.
UCLA: Showed its depth in dealing with yet another player out of the lineup. This time it was due to an injury, and Ali filled in nicely for Hands. The Bruins are still without LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, with the three suspended indefinitely for shoplifting in China.
Hazzard is the grandson of the late Walt Hazzard, the former UCLA player who played on John Wooden’s first national championship team in 1964. He also coached UCLA from 1984-88. Playing at Pauley Pavilion meant a lot to Max Hazzard.
“I was very excited,” Hazzard said. “My grandfather laid the path here at Pauley, so I was very excited to play in front of my family and friends. I really loved the atmosphere here.”
UCLA showed off its ad of newly-hired Chip Kelly as its football coach on the JumboTron during the game. Kelly is scheduled to have his introductory news conference on Monday in the Pavilion Club at Pauley Pavilion.
CLOUD OF UNCERTAINTY
When the three players were asked about dealing with four players not being in the lineup – one to injury and three to suspension – the senior Welsh pulled the microphone his way and said: “It’s different for sure. At the end of the day it’s about playing the best we can with the guys we’ve got. Just working hard in practice, working hard on the court, trying to play with one another. Just making the most of what we have.”
UC Irvine: Hosts Whittier College on Wednesday night.
UCLA: Hosts Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday night.