LOS ANGELES (AP) Gonzaga’s junior and senior dominated lineup proved too much for inexperienced UCLA.
Kyle Wiltjer scored 24 points and No. 9 Gonzaga led all the way en route to an 87-74 victory on Saturday night that snapped the Bruins’ four-game overall winning streak and handed them their first home loss.
”It’s awesome to come in here and get a big win on the road,” Wiltjer said. ”We’re a ranked team and we know we have a target on our backs.”
Byron Wesley added 20 points for the Zags (9-1) in his homecoming after starring for three seasons at Southern California. He shot 7 of 8 from the field and had nine rebounds and four assists.
”I wasn’t nervous coming back in here,” Wesley said. ”I had a lot of family and friends in the stands and I wanted to end this on a good note.”
Bryce Alford scored 23 points and Isaac Hamilton added 18 for UCLA (8-3), which got blown out by North Carolina in its only other game against a ranked opponent. The Bruins had won their first seven home games by an average of 20.1 points, but none of those opponents were as good as the Zags.
”They’ve been there, done that. We’ve got a lot of guys going through it for the first time,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. ”They don’t panic, they play with great poise. Offensively, they’re really hard to guard because they have so many guys who can make 3s, yet people will tell you their strength is on the inside.”
Gonzaga shot 59 percent in the first half, leading 38-27 at the break. UCLA didn’t take a shot in the final 2:09.
”They came out making shots early and we dug ourselves a hole,” the younger Alford said. ”We just couldn’t find our way out of it.”
The Bruins never got closer than six points in the second half. Kevon Looney finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, narrowly missing his eighth double-double.
Gonzaga’s defense stifled the younger Bruins, who couldn’t get their transition game going. Przemek Karnowski’s layup gave Gonzaga its largest lead of 17 points.
”They ran the offense to a T,” Looney said. ”If they got an open shot, they weren’t going to miss it. We got to be able to defend the whole 35 seconds.”
Wiltjer and Gary Bell Jr. hit consecutive 3s again and the 7-foot-1 Karnowski added a pair of free throws, extending Gonzaga’s lead to 69-53.
”The key was that we played our style of basketball and shared the ball,” Wesley said. ”We had poise down the stretch and our guys are used to playing in big games.”
UCLA made one last run, outscoring the Zags 10-2 behind five points by Alford to get to 71-63. But Kevin Pangos hit a 3-pointer before Wesley blocked Norman Powell, the Bruins’ lone senior who had stolen the ball and was driving to the basket. UCLA was limited to three baskets in the final five minutes, which turned into a free throw shooting contest.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs improved to 2-1 against UCLA, including a 2-0 mark at Pauley Pavilion. They played their third straight Pac-12 opponent, having lost to ranked Arizona and beaten Washington State. They will host UCLA next December as part of the home-and-home series.
UCLA: Alford was denied his 500th victory. He fell to 499-247. … Tony Parker was the only starter not in double figures. He finished with five points, nine rebounds and four fouls. … The Bruins’ 27 points tied a season low in the first half. … UCLA alum Jimmy Connors sat next to baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, while former UCLA star Jamaal Wilkes was courtside near ”Twilight” actor Taylor Lautner among the crowd of 10,006, largest of the season.
Wesley was used to Pauley Pavilion, where he played big rivalry games against UCLA when he was at crosstown rival USC. He has settled into Gonzaga’s starting lineup after transferring and came in averaging 12.1 points.
”It was tough on him coming into our program knowing he wasn’t going to get as many shots as he was used to,” Zags coach Mark Few said. ”But he’s crafty and he’s embraced it. He’s been a joy and his confidence is building.”
BETTER SECOND HALF
The Bruins improved their shooting to 52 percent in the second half, when they were outscored 49-47.
”We just figured things out kind of late,” Hamilton said.
Gonzaga: Hosts Texas Southern on Monday.
UCLA: Plays No. 1 Kentucky in Chicago on Dec. 20.