LOS ANGELES — Aaron Holiday took his game to another level Friday night and led UCLA to an impressive opening night Pac 12 game victory.
Holiday scored a career-high 33 points, pulled down a career-high 11 rebounds and had four assists and Jaylen Hands added 19 points to lead UCLA to a 96-82 victory over Washington State. Kris Wilkes scored 14 points and Thomas Welsh scored 12 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for the Bruins (10-3).
Robert Franks scored 20 points, Carter Skaggs added 17 and Milan Acquaah and Jeff Pollard scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, for the Cougars (8-5).
Holiday made 11 of 18 shots, including all five of his 3-point attempts, and recorded his fifth 20-point game of the season while leading the Bruins to their third consecutive win. The junior guard became the 55th player in UCLA history to score 1,000 career points when he drilled a 3-pointer that gave the Bruins a 27-22 lead.
“I’m blessed and I was able to do it with the help of my teammates,” Holiday said. “I’m happy I didn’t turn the ball over tonight, because I’ve been turning it over too much lately. I come out and play the same way every day. I don’t really chance my shot. I knew we were almost there (near 1,000 points). The key was that we stayed poised”.
Welsh reached the 1,000-point mark with a free throw with 3:16 left.
“This is a special place to reach 1,000 points,” Welsh said. “Aaron’s a bulldog. He brings it every night out there. He dropped 33 points and it’s special to reach 1,000 points on the same night”.
Welsh’s bucket about six minutes into the first half gave UCLA a 14-5 lead. The Cougars cut the lead to 29-28 following an Acquaah free throw with 5:33 to go in the half. Wilkes’ 3-point play down the stretch propelled the Bruins to a 42-37 lead at the break.
Holiday made 9 of 13 shots and scored 23 points in the first half. Wilkes added 8 points for the Bruins. Acquaah led WSU with 11 points in the first half.
UCLA held a 23-17 advantage on the glass in the opening half and a 43-30 edge for the game.
Skaggs drilled his fourth 3-pointer of the second half to cut the lead to 64-62 with 9:34 to play. But the Bruins countered by scoring on six of their next seven possessions and took an 80-68 lead following a 3-pointer by Hands with 4:08 remaining to seal the win.
UCLA coach Steve Alford praised Holiday’s leadership.
“Aaron is crucial for us,” Alford said. “He had a special game tonight. We’re a different team when he’s on the floor. Aaron’s talking a lot and he’s got the respect of his teammates in the locker room and he deserves that. He’s doing a great job of leading”.
The Bruins have defeated WSU in five of their last six contests, eight straight times at Pauley Pavilion and are 12-1 in Los Angeles against the Cougars since the start of the 2004-05 season. UCLA extended its record to 58-3 against WSU in Los Angeles.
“It’s a really tough place to open the Pac-12 schedule, at UCLA and at USC,” WSU coach Ernie Kent said. “But you just have to roll with the schedule. We have some of our young guys who have never played here before, so they didn’t understand the energy and the tradition in this building; you really can’t duplicate that.”
A moment of silence was observed before the game in memory of former UCLA broadcaster Dick Enberg who died last week of a heart attack at his home in La Jolla, California.
WSU: The Cougars lead the Pac 12 in 3’s made per game (11.9) and are ranked 4th nationally. Entering Friday’s game, WSU had made 12 or more 3’s in eight of its 12 games this season. Four Cougars rank in the top 10 of the Pac 12 for 3’s made per game: Malachi Flynn is second (2.83 per game), Franks and Viont’e Daniels are 6th (2.42) and Skaggs is ninth (2.33).
UCLA: The Bruins improved its record against the Cougars to 107-17. Holiday also became the 13th UCLA player in history with at least 1,000 points and 300 assists. Holiday now has 1016 points and 356 assists. Welsh has 1,001 points and 819 rebounds in his career, only the 12th player to score 1,000 points and 800 rebounds.
PAC-12 PLAYER of the WEEK
Holiday was named Pac 12 Player of the Week for the first time in his career after averaging 17.5 points and 6.5 assists in wins over South Dakota and No. 7 Kentucky.
LET’S BE FRANK
WSU junior forward Robert Franks is off to a hot start this season averaging 18.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting .500 from the field .433 from 3-point range.
WSU: The Cougars play at Southern California on Sunday evening.
UCLA: The Bruins play host Washington on New Year’s Eve.