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UCLA Basketball News Roundup: A Win Over Hawai’i Is A Nice Vacation Break

Prince Ali was the star, but the real story may be Jaylen Hands

NCAA Basketball: Long Beach State at UCLA
As Aaron Holiday and Lonzo Ball watched, Jaylen Hands looked like the next true UCLA point guard.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors were probably the second worst team left on UCLA’s schedule, but that did not take away from the good feelings of a solid effort last night with four former UCLA players were in the crowd last night. Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, and Aaron Holiday were taking a break from their NBA teams to watch UCLA play. As Ben Bolch notes in the LA Times:

The Bruins held a 45-26 halftime lead thanks to Ali’s 16 points on six-for-six shooting and Hands’ seven assists with no turnovers.

The effort generated cheers from a crowd of 6,062 that included a few other recent Bruins alumni besides Ball. Former UCLA forwards TJ Leaf and Ike Anigbogu sat on one baseline directly across from Ball and fellow point guard Aaron Holiday.

The foursome chatted and posed for a group photo at halftime and stopped by the Bruins’ locker room after the game. But they will be forced to take sides Thursday at Staples Center when Ball’s Lakers face Holiday, Leaf, Anigbogu and the other Indiana Pacers.

More on Prince Ali in a minute as that was the feel good moment, but the more important event was the POINT GUARD play of Jaylen Hands. Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News writes:

Ball and Holiday, UCLA’s two most recent point guards, had plenty to approve of as the next point guard in line, Jaylen Hands, had a career-high 11 assists to just two turnovers. The sophomore spurred UCLA’s best shooting night in three games. The Bruins (5-2) shot 49.2 percent from the field after shooting below 45 percent in games against Presbyterian, Michigan State and North Carolina.

After the game, Steve Alford was pleased with Hands play, especially in the first half:

He’s had two halves now. Carolina first half and the half that he had here where he’s had seven and eight (assists). He’s capable of huge-assist nights and tonight was great. I thought his second half wasn’t, obviously, as good as his first, but it was still solid. I thought he ran his team. He ran the show. He did a lot of good things. I think he’s concentrating more defensively. He makes his shots tonight like he normally does, you’re looking at probably a double-double out of him. How he moves the ball, it becomes contagious with the other guys. And I thought he did that really well tonight.

While Hands’ point guard play was the most important development of the night, Prince Ali was the star of the night. After starting 8-8 from the field including four three-pointers, Prince Ali ended his night with the play that impressed even Lonzo Ball. The Daily Bruin’s Sam Connon describes the closing play:

The redshirt junior guard went right at 7-foot center Dawson Carper with 11 seconds left in UCLA men’s basketball’s (5-2) eventual 80-61 victory over Hawai’i (4-4). Ali rose up over the defender, striking a pose to score his 22nd and 23rd points of the game – a career-high – on a powerful slam.

After the play, Ali said he made sure to exchange a look with his former teammate Lonzo Ball, who was sitting on the baseline.

“That’s my guy, so I had to do that in front of him,” Ali said.

Ball nodded back.

Ali deserves the cheers, headlines and kudos he got. Although Hawaii’s coach Eran Ganot did not come out and say it it directly, it was obvious that Hawai’I was going to leave Ali open to see if he could beat them and boy did he. Ganot said:

I really give them credit. They really set the tone early with their shooting and it was hard to be down 16-5. I’m really happy with the way we fought back. Credit them, we can’t afford to get behind with a team like that. They really have good depth. Cody Riley is back. They really have the biggest team in the country. They are really long at all positions, especially at the wings. You just have to pick your poison. If we try to close out their wings, they beat you out over the top. If you try to guard them inside, they’re going to hit the three-point shot.

Prince Ali was poison to Hawai’i last night, but more importantly Jaylen Hands looked like the leader that UCLA needs for the season. I’ll give the last word to Prince Ali talking about Jaylen Hands:

“We (he and Kris Wilkes) tell him all the time that when he passes the ball like that, it’s very hard to guard us. You see what happens when he does that.”

It was not Lonzo Ball’s offense of a few years ago, but it was very good in the first half. This team is also deeper and potentially better on defense. It is also a weaker Pac-12. If this team lives up to its potential, it could do something none of the UCLA Bruins watching last night could do: win the Pac-12 regular season title.

Go Bruins.