No. 18 UCLA finally has started to resemble the type of team it hoped to be this season, after an international incident in China and a pair of narrow victories. The Bruins play Creighton in Kansas City on Monday in the Hall of Fame Classic after finally hitting their stride in the second half of Friday’s 96-68 victory over South Carolina State, pulling away from a six-point halftime advantage as freshmen Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes fueled the second-half surge.
“It was really helpful to us to get that momentum,” Hands told the media after scoring a team-leading 22 points, combining with Wilkes to score 17 of the Bruins’ first 19 points after halftime. The Blue Jays are off to a strong start and enter the week off an upset of No. 20 Northwestern on Wednesday, 92-88. Khyri Thomas scored a career-high 24 points to go with 11 rebounds as Creighton blew an early 15-point lead, but maintained its composure to pull off the road upset. “Our guys fought,” Thomas told reporters. “That’s what we preach. Just fight, be tough and be the better man.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
ABOUT UCLA (3-0): Wilkes and Hands have made an immediate impact for the Bruins, combining to average 32.6 points and 12 rebounds per game. Another freshman, Chris Smith, scored a season-high 15 points in just 21 minutes against South Carolina State. Thomas Welsh has posted double-doubles in his past two games (13 points, 15 rebounds Friday), and is averaging 13 points and 11.3 rebounds.
ABOUT CREIGHTON (3-0): Thomas shot 9-for-16 from the field against Northwestern and Martin Krampelj added 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting. All-Big East first-team pick Marcus Foster leads the Blue Jays in scoring at 19.3 points per game, and is the first Creighton player since 1970 to score 23 or more points in the first two games of a season. Freshmen Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock combined for 20 points against Northwestern.
1. The Bruins are shooting 52.2 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from 3-point range.
2. Creighton F Toby Hegner, a senior averaging 7.7 points, is expected to miss three-to-six weeks after injuring his left ankle Wednesday.
3. Monday’s winner will face either Baylor or Wisconsin on Tuesday.
PREDICTION: UCLA 87, Creighton 81