LAS VEGAS (AP) — When star freshman Lonzo Ball arrived at UCLA, Aaron Holiday lost his starting point guard job.
Holiday showed Saturday he can provide the surging Bruins with a needed boost off the bench.
Holiday and Bryce Alford each scored 20 points and No. 2 UCLA overcame a rough shooting game from Ball to beat Ohio State 86-73 and remain unbeaten.
PHOTOS: UCLA Improves To 12-0
Isaac Hamilton scored 17 points and T.J. Leaf added 13, including a steal and layup that sparked the decisive run for the Bruins (12-0). They continued their best start since being 14-0 in 2006-07.
“I just try to get my mind right on the bench until my name is called” Holiday, a sophomore, said. “Honestly, I can see different things the defense aren’t doing so I can go out there and help that way.”
After a sloppy, 12-turnover first half, UCLA led 44-40 when Leaf stole Micah Potter’s pass under Ohio State’s basket and scored over Potter. It started a 7-0 run that concluded with Leaf’s 3-pointer with 16:53 left.
Alford’s 3-pointer with 1:49 left put the Bruins up 81-71 and stopped Ohio State (8-3) from mounting a late comeback in the first game of the CBS Sports Classic.
“We’ve usually got five guys out there who can pass, shoot and dribble it,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “That’s uncommon. And with the character of these guys, it’s the making of a special team.”
Marc Loving scored 13 of his 19 points in the first half, Jae’Sean Tate added 15 and Keith Bates-Diop scored 13 for the Buckeyes, who lost for the third time in five games.
Ohio State shot 48.4 percent from the field, but committed 15 turnovers.
“When you’re playing a team like UCLA, the one thing you can’t do is give the basketball back,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “Percentages say, they’re eventually going to score.”
It was UCLA’s first game in Las Vegas since bowing out of last season’s Pac-12 Tournament with a blowout loss to rival Southern California in the first round. It closed a 15-17 season and led Alford to issue an apology.
Holiday insisted he “didn’t think about the last time” he was in town, but UCLA is a far superior team.
The addition of a couple of star freshmen had transformed the Bruins in their return. While Ball (eight points, 3-of-8 shooting) was quiet, Leaf provided the athleticism and versatility missing from last season and Holiday picked up the scoring slack in the backcourt.
“Our bench has probably done more in 12 games than 32 games last year,” Steve Alford said. “That’s huge.”
UCLA: Holiday showed he belongs in UCLA’s impressive and deep backcourt. He had four rebounds and made 8 of 10 free throws. UCLA weathered a lackluster first half by upping the tempo in the second half behind Holiday.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes, who had a shocking home loss to Florida Atlantic earlier this month, played a solid first half. They did a good defensive job on Ball, too, but couldn’t stay with the speedy Bruins after halftime.
“Our huddles weren’t as energetic and as vocal as they were in the first half,” Loving said. “And it carried over onto the court.”
The Bruins should hold onto their highest ranking since 2007. Ohio State hasn’t been in the Top 25 since 2014-15.
While Ball shot poorly, he had nine rebounds and nine assists while flirting with his first triple-double for the second straight game. His dunk of an alley-oop pass with just under 2 minutes left made it 83-71.
UCLA C Thomas Welsh (bruised knee) warmed up, but didn’t play. The Bruins still held a 41-31 rebounding advantage. Alford said Welsh could return next week.
UCLA hosts Western Michigan on Wednesday in its final non-conference game. The Pac-12 opener is a week later at No. 22 Oregon. The Bruins will return to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament in March.
Ohio State has home games Tuesday (Youngstown State) and Thursday (UNC Asheville) before opening Big Ten play Jan. 1 at Illinois.