ANAHEIM (AP) — UCLA’s first three games since the departure of Reeves Nelson have served as a textbook case of addition by subtraction.
Joshua Smith had 18 points and 10 rebounds and the Bruins reached the .500 mark for the first time this season with an 82-39 rout of UC Davis on Saturday. They have won all three games since coach Ben Howland threw 6-foot-8 power forward Nelson off the team for a litany of transgressions regarding his conduct on and off the court.
“I’d say we’re kind of getting our chemistry back,” Smith said. “I mean, when you lose Reeves, you’re losing a good player.
“He’s not with us anymore, and I with him the best of luck, honestly. But we’re having better practices with the guys we have. And it’s just going to get better when Trav gets back, because he adds depth to the team and we’ll be that much better in the post.”
Forward Travis Wear sat out his second straight game because of a skin infection on his left foot, but freshman forward David Wear helped pick up the slack with 15 points. The Bruins (5-5) also were without swingman De’End Parker, who missed his eighth game in a row because of tendinitis in his knee.
“Travis was with the doctor yesterday, and he still had a little bit of redness in his foot,” Howland said. “So to err on the side of caution, which is always what our medical staff does, they decided to hold him out. The fear was that if he starts pounding on it, he could start the whole process over of the swelling. And we didn’t want that. But I would say he’s probable for Tuesday (against UC Irvine).”
It was the second of four home games UCLA has scheduled at Honda Center while Pauley Pavilion is undergoing a massive renovation. The final two in Anaheim will be against Arizona in the Wooden Classic on Jan. 5, followed by a matchup with Arizona State two nights later.
The Bruins are 14-4 at Honda Center, where they have played in the John Wooden Classic every year since it was established in 1994. They also won both of the NCAA tournament games they’ve played here.
Tyler Les had a team-high nine points for the Aggies (1-9), who have lost six straight and were playing for the first time since their 74-61 loss at Hawaii on Sunday.
“When you come into a game, you always have a fighting chance — that you can throw a punch,” reserve guard Paolo Mancasola said. “But I feel like we came out on our heels, and that’s what hurts the most. We have to come out and compete.”
The game was a blowout from the start, as UCLA used an 18-0 run and a suffocating defense to open up a 40-6 lead with 3:15 left in the first half. The Aggies missed their first eight shots and were 5 for 26 from the field in the half. They didn’t get their first basket until Eddie Miller hit a 15-footer 14:37 before intermission.
“We played extremely hard defensively, especially in the first 20 minutes, and we did a better job on the boards” Howland said. “They shot 19 percent in the first half, and it would have been better than that if they hadn’t made those two baskets in the last 2 minutes. But UC Davis is a better team than they showed today. It was a combination of them not playing well and us playing real well.”
The Bruins’ 43-15 halftime lead was their largest since Nov. 29, 2008, when they held a 43-13 margin over Florida International at Pauley Pavilion en route to an 89-54 win. In their last two games, UCLA’s defense has allowed an average of 16.5 first-half points.
“We looked a little bit intimidated,” Aggies coach Jim Les said. “You get an opportunity to come to UC Davis and play Division I basketball and you get an opportunity to play UCLA in this beautiful venue, but they took it to us right from the start, and we didn’t have too many answers on the offensive or defensive end.
“We know we have some liabilities we’ve got to overcome, but I give UCLA a lot of credit. In the last two games, watching them on tape, they looked much better and much more cohesive. They’re a good basketball team that’s playing well together, sharing the ball, and they’re very physical defensively.”
The Bruins, who have won all four games they’ve played against UC Davis, never trailed by fewer than 26 in the second half.
Ryan Howley’s three-point play reduced the Aggies’ deficit to 47-21, but UCLA responded with a layup by Smith, a 3-pointer by Tyler Lamb and a dunk by Norman Powell off an alley-oop feed from Lamb to give the Bruins a 54-21 lead with 15:49 to play.
UCLA boosted its lead to 47 points during a 20-0 run in which UC Davis went more than 7½ minutes between baskets. At that point, Howland emptied his bench with 5:45 remaining.
The Bruins have two nonconference games against UC Irvine and Richmond before opening up their first Pac-12 conference schedule at Stanford on Dec. 29.
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