LOS ANGELES (AP) — UCLA responded to new coach Mick Cronin’s self-described “spirited” halftime talk in a big way.
The Bruins upped their defensive pressure on the first possession of the second half and went on to beat UC Santa Barbara 77-61 on Sunday night.
The Gauchos turned the ball over and Prince Ali scored at the other end to tie the game for the last time. He then stole the ball and scored on a fast-break dunk and the Bruins never trailed again.
“That’s what we needed to jumpstart our comeback,” said Jules Bernard, who tied his career high with 20 points while making all three of his 3-pointers. “That’s what we preach. Our defense is going to help us win.”
Jalen Hill had a career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead four players in double figures for the Bruins (2-0).
“Jalen Hill was a monster,” Gauchos coach Joe Pasternack said. “I think UCLA is going to be an NCAA Tournament team.”
UCLA improved to 21-1 all-time against the Gauchos in a series that began in the 1940s.
“I thought today was going to be a brutal game,” Cronin said, citing the Gauchos’ experience and shot-making ability. “We were not surprised by what was going on in the first half. I’m really happy with our effort in the second half.”
Trailing at halftime, the Bruins opened the second half with an 18-5 run to take a 50-39 lead. Hill had seven points in the spurt during which UCSB’s Matt Freeman and Amadou Sow each picked up their third fouls.
“We got the ball at the basket which helped him,” Cronin said of Hill, “but his effort was off the charts rebounding.”
Typical of the Bruins’ improved effort under Cronin was a play during the run. Tyger Campbell had a 3-pointer blocked, Alex Olesinski got the offensive rebound and missed, but Hill snagged another offensive board and tipped the ball in.
Hill attributed his inspired rebounding to “coach just telling me to go get every board.”
Hill played in all 33 games last season when he was second in rebounding after sitting out his first season as punishment for shoplifting during UCLA’s trip to China in 2017.
The Bruins controlled the boards, 40-26, including an 18-5 edge on the offensive glass.
“Their size really was a problem for us,” Pasternack said.
Max Heidegger scored 21 points to lead the Gauchos (1-1). Freeman had 12 points and Sow had 10 rebounds.
UCSB cut its deficit to 63-55 on four straight points by Heidegger after Robinson Idehen fouled out. Sow soon picked up his fifth foul, too.
From there, the Bruins closed on a 14-6 run while repeatedly forcing the Gauchos into empty possessions to end the game.
“I don’t think we played tough enough in the second half,” Heidegger said. “They were just tougher.”
The Gauchos shot 50 percent from the field in the first half when their largest lead was six points. They outscored UCLA 15-11, including seven straight, to end the half leading 34-32.
“We let Santa Barbara get comfortable and you should not let teams come into your gym and get comfortable,” Cronin said. “We didn’t try to take anything away in the first half.”
UC Santa Barbara: The Gauchos were picked to finish second in the Big West this season. Coach Joe Pasternack has the program on the rise. They went 45-19 in his first two seasons, the school’s first back-to-back 20-win seasons in 29 years. They’ve got three players who stand 6-foot-10, including Idehen from Spain, who along with 6-9 Sow from Mali, present a formidable post presence.
UCLA: The young Bruins have rallied from deficits in each of their first two victories under new coach Mick Cronin. They’re showing greater hustle and persistence on the defensive end this season. They’ll be tested in the coming weeks against No. 3 Kansas, Notre Dame and No. 9 North Carolina.
The Gauchos had 14 turnovers (five by guard Devearl Ramsey) to nine for the Bruins. UCSB had four players with at least three fouls.
Redshirt freshman Shareef O’Neal sat out because of a right hip pointer. He’s day to day. The son of Shaquille’ O’Neal didn’t score in six minutes of the season opener and had a turnover and a steal.
UC Santa Barbara: Hosts Rice on Saturday before traveling to Oregon State to face their second Pac-12 opponent in four games.
UCLA: Hosts UNLV on Friday in the third of five straight home games to open the season.
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