Los Angeles, CA – The UCLA Bruins defeated UC Riverside (UCR) 77-66 Wednesday night, as they utilized a strong 2nd half in which they outscored the Highlanders by 19 points. The victory keeps the Bruins (8-2) undefeated at home with seven consecutive wins. The Highlanders, however, continue their road woes – now (1-3) – and drop to 5-4 on the year.
The game did not start off as planned for the Bruins, as it was a back-and-forth game early on with both teams trading baskets and getting to the free throw line. UCR’s leading scorer in the game, senior swingman Steven Thornton, opened up the Highlander lead early by connecting on three 3-pointers and a breakaway slam off his steal in the lane. UCR’s best player, junior forward Taylor Johns, got into early foul trouble and struggled overall to get his shot going against the much longer Kevon Looney. Despite Johns’ poor shooting night from the field (5-of-13) the 1st half offensive outburst by Thornton as well as the strong rebounding and defensive effort by Swedish big man Alex Larsson (7 rebounds, 2 blocks), gave UCR a surprising 36-28 lead at the half.
UCLA sophomore guard Norman Powell opened up the second half on fire, connecting first on a deep three, followed up by a breakaway dunk and a sweet and-1 opportunity that fueled a 10-1 Bruin run. His strong offensive performance spearheaded the Bruins comeback effort while his teammates were still trying to find their groove. Eventually, the UCLA big men started to dominate the way they were supposed to against a fairly weak and undersized Big West UCR team. Freshman forwardLooneypicked up yet another double-double raking in 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Bruins, while forward Tony Parker had a career night on the boards pulling down 16 to go along with his 16 points and 2 blocks.
Flanked by Looney and Parker, UCLA features a pretty formidable front court that rivals any Pac-12 opponent. The two forwards – who combine for an average of over 19 rebounds per game – really impressed UCR Head Coach Dennis Cutts: “They made us rush shots and take them out on the perimeter…Their length and athleticism really affected us. Their length on defense allows them to really get after you.” Furthermore, what is particularly impressive with the freshman Looney is that he had what was considered to be a quiet night by his standards. Yet, still he gathered in 12 points and 11 boards. His long arms and leaping ability is what keeps most opponents from scoring big in the paint, and is definitely what kept Highlander star forward Taylor Johns in check all night; Johns came into the game averaging 15.5 ppg on 54 percent shooting. His numbers tonight, 13 points, with five of the points coming in garbage time after the game had already been decided.
UC Riverside now returns home for a 10-day break before facing Houston Baptist (3-3) on December 20th. Two days later they travel to San Diego State to face the top-25 ranked Aztecs at the Viejas Arena. UCLA gets to put their perfect home record to the test this Saturday against currently No. 9 ranked Gonzaga. If that wasn’t enough, the Bruins then travel to a neutral site in Chicago to face their toughest opponent of the season, current No. 1 ranked Kentucky.
Quick Tid-Bit: UCLA’s Looney now leads the Pac-12 in double-doubles after he picked up his seventh on the season against UCR.
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