The Bruins (9-1) lost to Missouri on Dec. 7 but had no trouble against an overmatched Prairie View A&M team Saturday night. Jordan Adams scored 18 points, while Norman Powell and Kyle Anderson added 13 to lead UCLA to a 95-71 win at Pauley Pavilion.
Then again, if the Bruins were looking for a game in which to start preparing for Thursday's game against Duke, this might not have been it.
Despite Saturday's lopsided win, the Bruins were outscored by the Panthers (2-8) in the second half. Scott Montrael scored 25 of his game-high 27 points after intermission and against less defensive pressure from UCLA.
"Coming out of finals week, you never know what you're going to get," UCLA coach Steve Alford said. "I appreciate the guys' focus to start the game. We got a little lackadaisical in the second half and played the score instead of trying to put two halves together."
The Bruins played strong defense in the first half, forcing 11 turnovers—including steals on Prairie View's first two possessions.
Adams got the first, leading to two free throws by Powell, who stole the ball on the Panthers' next possession and dunked to give the Bruins the early 4-0 lead.
Montrael scored on a jumper for Prairie View's first points but UCLA scored the next seven, forcing the Panthers to play catch up.
"We were shell-shocked and we had too many stupid turnovers and we didn't play up to what we are capable of," Prairie View coach Byron Rimm II said.
Despite being the more athletic team, the Bruins had trouble pulling away from the Panthers in the early going but turned that around just after 10-minute mark.
Leading 17-11 with 12:29 remaining in the first half, the Bruins turned up the pressure at both ends for a 24-9 run that produced a 41-20 lead with 3:11 left in the half.
To make things worse for the Panthers, the Bruins closed out the opening frame with a 9-2 run, taking a 50-24 lead into halftime.
"The first half was terrible," said Rimm. "We were getting open looks in the first half but we just weren't hitting them."
The first-half numbers told the story. The Bruins connected on 58 percent of their field goal attempts, while Prairie View managed just 36 percent.
The Panthers tried to keep the game close by shooting 3-point baskets, but connected on just one of their 11 attempts in the first half, while the Bruins connected on four of 10 long-range shots.
Prairie View looked much better in the second half and Alford would have liked to have seen more out of his defense. The Panthers shot 54 percent from the field in the second half, and were 8 for 15 from 3-point range.
"It's a consistency," Alford said "It's a habit, and we haven't created the habit defensively for championship teams. For us to take that next step forward and become one of the premiere teams in the country, we have to become habit-forming in the way we play defense and the way we rebound."
Louis Munks contributed 13 points as the Panthers turned in a strong offensive second half thanks in part to an early 18-5 run, but the Bruins were never threatened.
"We have to play better defense and we didn't attack as much as we should have," Montrael said. "We just have to keep getting better each time out."
Zach LaVine came off the bench and scored 10 points for the Bruins.
"We started out with a good defensive effort but we have to continue to do that in the second half," Adams said.
Travis Wear (10 points) was supposed to be in the Bruins starting lineup on opening day but ended up missing the first three games of the season after having his appendix removed. He was content to sit on the bench while the Bruins won their first eight games of the season. Saturday, in anticipation of this week's matchup against Duke, Wear became a starter again.
"I appreciate Travis Wear being an unselfish individual," Alford said. "Travis got out of that lineup because of his surgery, missing three games. I appreciate his unselfishness because we were on that roll."