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The Big-Big Experiment Ends With a 83-50 UCLA Win Over WSU

Jonah Bolden to the rescue

Isaac Hamilton and the Bruiins had reason to smile
Isaac Hamilton and the Bruiins had reason to smile
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The story of the 83-50 win over Washington State was in the pregame introductions.  As we mentioned in yesterday's notes as possible, Jonah Bolden started:

UCLA will start forward Jonah Bolden against Washington State this, shaking up the starting lineup in an attempt to fix the team's defensive struggles.

The sophomore is making just his second start of the season, moving up over senior big man Tony Parker. After Thursday's 86-84 loss to Washington, head coach Steve Alford said that the team's "big-big" lineup of Parker and sophomore center Thomas Welsh was becoming too ineffective in getting stops.

The result was the biggest UCLA win since 2009.  UCLA did not play big-big at all the whole game with Bolden starting at 4 and GG backing him up. According to Steve Alford:

I think that was the best 40 minutes that we've had all year, offensively and defensively. A lot of that has to do with getting G.G. [Goloman] back healthy and being able to play where we're not big-big. We're quicker and more athletic, and we've been getting beat by athletic teams. The sub pattern of being able to play one big at a time, meaning Tony [Parker] and Tom [Welsh], I think it really helps what we're trying to do offensively and defensively. I appreciate Tony. There were a lot of pluses in this game, but when your senior goes to the bench for the betterment of the team and comes in and plays the way he played, I really appreciate that. I thought he was terrific tonight defensively and really productive offensively. As I wrote on the board, Tony Parker - 5-for-5 from the line and took a charge. That hadn't happened all year. I'm very, very pleased with him, and I thought it was a really good team win

Jonah's impact was felt mostly at the defensive end.

Washington State offered a good litmus test for the change. The Cougars (9-12, 1-8) may be stuck in last place in the Pac-12, but they entered Pauley Pavilion shooting an efficient 48.6 percent. Only one team — No. 1 Oklahoma — had held them below 40 percent all season.

Against the Bruins, however, they looked disjointed all game long. After making just seven shots in the first half, WSU finished with a season-low 33.3 percent from the field.

Star forward Josh Hawkinson, who leads the league with 15 double-doubles, was a non-factor. The 6-foot-10, 232-pound junior picked up two fouls in the first six minutes. He didn't score his first points until there were less than 10 minutes left in the game.

"We did a good job on him tonight," said Alford, who made a point of complimenting Hawkinson's versatility. "Jonah had an awful lot to do with that."

Bolden was not good on offense but it did not matter.

Snapping a two-game losing skid, they held the Cougars to their lowest scoring output all season on 33 percent shooting, to improve to 13-9 overall and 4-5 in the Pac-12 at the midway point of the conference season. The .667 points per possession the Bruins allowed also was the second-lowest in a game this season.

The defensive effort was triggered by only the second lineup change this season and the first that wasn't for an illness-related reason.

"We were really getting exposed playing two centers at once," said Alford, whose team had given up 84 points per game in its previous eight Pac-12 games. "We have to get more athletic."

Bolden gave the defense a different flavor, while Welsh and Parker rotated in and out of the lineup.

While the story was on defense, on offense, an interesting thing happen.  For what was the likely the first time this year, Bryce had fewer minutes and shots than his backcourt mates Aaron Holiday and Isaac Hamilton in the blow out win.  Hamilton for his part put the game out of reach:

The Bruins found their stride on offense in the second half, spurred by the play of Isaac Hamilton, who led all scorers with 22 points, while adding six assists and four rebounds. He had a number of impressive baskets, including a floater off a Euro Step, a three-point play on a dunk, and back-to-back three-point field goals from opposite sides of the court. For a two-minute stretch, Hamilton outscored the Cougars by himself, 11-0.

"Coach emphasized playing with passion and a sense of urgency," Hamilton said. "I think tonight that's what we did."

Junior guard Bryce Alford finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and four assists, doing most of his damage from the free-throw line, where he was seven for seven. He had five field-goal attempts — his lowest mark of the season — and didn't officially register a shot from the floor for the opening 10 minutes. But he picked his spots effectively, contributing five straight points as part of a 10-0 second-half run by UCLA that put the game out of reach.

That said perspective is needed.  Hawkinson is a good player but WSU is a bad team.  In any case the last word on the story of the day goes to UCLA's new starting and now only starting center Thomas Welsh:

On the new starting lineup ...
"As players, we were told about the decision yesterday. We are more athletic, especially on the defensive and offensive end [with this lineup]."

On the change in the post ...
"I think it helps us because I have more area in the post. Tony [Parker] is a terrific post player, but Jonah [Bolden] can shoot the three, and he stretches the defense."

Go Bruins!