No. 23 UCLA survives Central Arkanas in overtime
A Wednesday that began with negative headlines for No. 23 UCLA nearly ended with another, but the Bruins rallied in overtime to beat upset-minded Central Arkansas 106-101 at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.
UCLA (2-0) preceded its 2017-18 home opener as the focus of national attention, with freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill issuing a public apology for their arrest last week in China on shoplifting.
Coach Steve Alford announced the indefinite suspension of the trio. A depleted UCLA roster battled wire-to-wire with Central Arkansas (1-2), which rallied from a 17-point, first-half deficit on excellent 3-point shooting.
“I give Central Arkansas a lot of credit,” Alford said in his post-game interview on the UCLA IMG Radio Network. “They gave us one heck of a punch, and they just kept punching. (Central Arkansas coach) Russ (Pennell) had his team ready to go. The Howard kid is special, and had one of those special nights.”
The Howard kid — Bears guard Jordan Howard — sank his fifth shot from behind the arc with 3.7 seconds remaining in regulation, giving Central Arkansas an 86-85 lead. Howard finished with 35 points and paced an 18-of-35 shooting effort from deep for the Bears.
Pennell told Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the Los Angeles Daily News that Central Arkansas’ strategy was to combat UCLA’s size advantage — which manifested in a 51-42 rebounding edge — with the 3-point shot. The game plan would have worked, had the Bruins not responded in the closing seconds at the free throw line.
UCLA freshman Jaylen Hands, fouled on a drive into the lane, made 1 of 2 free throws on the Bruins’ final possession, forcing overtime.
Freshman Kris Wilkes recorded his first career double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Center Thomas Welsh also provided a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while guard Aaron Holiday scored a team-high and career-high 24 points.
“The guys we have on the court are the guys we have on the court. We just have to win,” Welsh said on the UCLA IMG Radio Network. “There’s a lot of stuff going on, but at the end of the day, it’s about going out here and getting wins.”
UCLA threatened to blow the game open early, taking a 34-17 lead amid a four-minute scoring drought for Central Arkansas midway through the first half. A combination of poor foul shooting and sloppy ball control — the Bruins committed nine turnovers before halftime — allowed the Bears to battle back.
Four from Central Arkansas scored in double figures. Guard Thatch Unruh notched 20 points, hitting four 3-pointers. Guard Mathieu Kamba and 7-foot freshman Hayden Koval both added 15 points.
NOTES: UCLA F Thomas Welsh’s double-double vs. Central Arkansas was the 20th of his career. ... UCLA shot 62.5 percent from the free-throw line but was a much worse 2 of 10 until the final two minutes of regulation. ... Central Arkansas G Jordan Howard fell two points shy of career high. He scored 37 points against Northwestern State in February 2016. ... Central Arkansas G Mathieu Kamba surpassed the 1,000-point mark with 15 points Wednesday and has 1,004.