LOS ANGELES (AP) — Another slow start had UCLA coach Steve Alford questioning his team’s toughness at halftime. He demanded to know who was going to be a leader and bring energy against an upstart UC Riverside team.
Norman Powell answered on both counts, starting a second-half rally with seven straight points on his way to 20 in a 77-66 victory Wednesday night, the Bruins’ fourth straight and seventh in a row at home.
“I wanted to provide a spark, so I picked up my defense and my offense,” said Powell, the Bruins’ lone senior. “It has to come like that from the beginning of the game.”
Tony Parker had 16 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, and Bryce Alford added 16 points and eight assists for the Bruins (8-2), who trailed most of the first half, including by eight points at the break against a team that was picked to finish last in the Big West.
Parker said the inexperienced Bruins have to respect every opponent and not take some lightly, a habit they had last season. They started slowly in a 75-68 win over San Diego last weekend.
“It kind of hurt us because we’ve got a really young bench so our starting five has to pick up the pace,” he said. “We got to bring our own energy and that’s tough for a young team.”
The Bruins begin their toughest stretch of games Saturday against No. 9 Gonzaga. Then comes No. 1 Kentucky in Chicago and Alabama on the road.
“If you’re only going to get jacked up because of the name on the jersey, you’re only going to win so many times,” the elder Alford said. “If we can get some toughness and a little nastiness to us, this team will rise.”
The Bruins took the lead for good — and for the first time in the second half — on a 3-pointer by Alford with 15 minutes to go.
Steven Thornton led the Highlanders (5-4) with 15 points and Taylor Johns added 13 points and eight rebounds as the team’s three-game winning streak ended.
“They made us rush shots and take them out on the perimeter,” Riverside coach Dennis Cutts said. “We just aren’t that kind of team. Their length and athleticism really affected us. Their length on defense allows them to really get after you.”
Powell and Isaac Hamilton hit back-to-back 3-pointers for UCLA’s largest lead of the game, 53-44.
The Highlanders hung in, cutting their deficit to 59-57 on a pair of free throws by Thornton following a 3-pointer by Steven Jones, who fouled out in the final seconds.
“We are happy with how we played, but know that we can do better,” Thornton said.
Alford kept them at bay, dribbling down the middle and putting up a desperate heave that went in. He was fouled and completed the three-point play. On UCLA’s next possession, Alford was fouled on a 3-point attempt and converted all three for a 65-57 lead.
Freshman Kevon Looney’s basket gave the Bruins the game’s first double-digit lead, 71-61, with just over 2 minutes left. He finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for his Pac-12-leading seventh double-double.
Powell and Looney picked up their fourth fouls in the game’s final 10 minutes.
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