Leaf leads No. 16 UCLA past San Diego

Leaf leads No. 16 UCLA past San Diego

UCLA freshman forward T.J. Leaf, with a game-high 26 points in an 88-68 win over visiting San Diego on Thursday night, noted that he and the 16th-ranked Bruins were nearly unstoppable around the basket.

“They weren’t the biggest team inside and we exploited that,” Leaf said referring to San Diego (0-3) not having a player in its rotation taller than 6’7”. “We showed that we can win in different ways. We won’t live and die from 3-point range.”

Despite making only 5 of its 22 3-point attempts -- after making a school-record 18 in the season-opener last week against Pacific -- the Bruins (3-0) pulled away relying on high-percentage shots and with free throws (19-of-22 performance) because they attacked the basket.

The Bruins, starting the 6-foot-10 Leaf and 7-footer Thomas Welsh, took advantage of their size advantage over the Toreros, outscoring them 46-22 in the paint. Leaf scored 10 of the Bruins’ first 15 points in the second half on three dunks and two layups.

“I told our guys at halftime that we don’t want to settle on offense,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “We want to be aggressive and get the high-percentage shots by attacking the rim.

“We had only four assists in the first half but finished with 21. That’s a good indication of us moving the ball, working the ball for good shots and not settling.”

Leaf’s last basket during his scoring output early in the second half increased UCLA’s lead to 56-43, its biggest lead of the game at the point. His layup with 14:41 left in the game culminated a 12-3 run.

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San Diego, led by forward Brett Bailey’s career-high 22 points and nine rebounds, did not come closer than 10 points afterward.

“We have to get a little tougher and grittier and keep the ball out of the post on defense,” San Diego coach Lamont Smith said. “We took care of the ball for the most part with only seven turnovers.

“Our problem was not on the offensive end. We were negligent on the defensive end of making stops near the basket.”

Leaf also tallied 10 rebounds, giving him two double-double performances in UCLA’s first three games. Fellow freshman guard standout Lonzo Ball finished with 13 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. UCLA junior center Thomas Welsh also had his second double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

The Toreros were also led by forward Cameron Neubauer scoring all of his career-high 14 in the second half.

UCLA made its first 3-pointer with 10:23 left in the game on a shot by guard Isaac Hamilton that gave the Bruins a 63-50 lead. UCLA started 0 of 13 from beyond the arc.

The Bruins looked like they would take control early going on a 15-2 run to take their biggest lead of the first half, 26-14, with 8:35 left before halftime. The Toreros missed 12 straight shots in one stretch of the first half and shot only 30 percent going into intermission.

Despite the cold shooting, San Diego kept the game close with UCLA. The Toreros went on a 11-2 run to cut the lead to 28-25 with 5:05 left in the first half.

UCLA then answered with a 9-3 run capped by Ball’s three-point play to take a 37-28 lead with 2:44 remaining in the half. The Bruins made 15 of their 16 free-throw attempts in the first half.

Bailey led all scorers in the first half with 12 points that included 2-of-2 shooting from 3-point range. The Toreros, who trailed 41-33 at halftime, went 5 of 11 from 3-point range in the half.

NOTES: UCLA scored at least 100 points in each of its first two games, marking the second time in the last four seasons (all under head coach Steve Alford) in which the Bruins have logged consecutive games with 100 or more points. ... UCLA hasn’t scored 100 points or more in three straight games since opening the 1971-72 season with seven consecutive victories with 100 or more points. ... San Diego’s roster features only one senior (Bailey). The Toreros have six freshmen and four sophomores.