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Holiday plays solidly, Howland plays it safe

UCLA 89 FLORIDA INT'L 54

Freshman guard scores 20 points before taking refuge on the bench.

November 30, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

A scary thought sneaked into Ben Howland's brain.

His team comfortably in the lead, he was thinking about putting his super-freshman, Jrue Holiday, back on the court. Then, as he explained later, "I could see the headlines."

Holiday Hurt in Final Minutes of Lopsided Win.

So the young guard remained firmly on the bench as 13th-ranked UCLA cruised to an 89-54 victory over Florida International at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday night.

Even with limited minutes, Holiday enjoyed a breakout performance, making all eight of his shots from the field for a team-high 20 points. A missed free throw and a turnover were the only blemishes.

Asked about his growing confidence, the 18-year-old credited a painful experience gained from the previous week's trip to Madison Square Garden, where the Bruins were upset by Michigan.

"Going to New York and playing in the Garden, I was a little nervous in my games out there," he said.

Back at home, the whole squad seemed far more comfortable. It helped that Florida International was clearly overmatched, Coach Sergio Rouco saying, "You can't simulate this in practice."

It also helped that the Bruins had opened a 46-13 lead by halftime, enjoying an easy victory before they travel to face sixth-ranked Texas, a team that defeated them last season.

"They're very talented and deep," Howland said of the Longhorns. "They have size and quickness."

For much of last week, UCLA practiced the motion offense as a way to augment the standard set plays. On Saturday night, Howland could be heard yelling "motion" from the bench on several occasions.

But any scattered experiments at a more fluid style were overshadowed by old-fashioned rebounding and good shot selection.

Seven players scored eight points or more. Six were tied with a team-high four rebounds. UCLA had 18 points off fastbreaks.

"That's when we start making our game," point guard Darren Collison said, adding this proviso: "You can't get easy transition points if you're not playing defense."

This being a Howland team, defense is always an emphasis.

The Bruins have fretted about opponents beating them off the dribble too often. So their coach has responded by focusing on better fundamentals and, Collison said, "a lot of running."

The hard work paid off as Florida International shot only 34.9% and was outrebounded, 33-20. The Golden Panthers had 17 turnovers.

The Bruins kept Florida International's leading scorer, forward Nikola Gacesa, under wraps until after halftime. They pushed guard Michael Dominguez so far beyond the three-point line that he didn't make a basket until almost seven minutes into the second half, shooting two for 10.

And Florida International's 7-foot center, Russell Hicks, a transfer from Pepperdine, finished with two points and two rebounds on a sore ankle.

Those are the kind of numbers that would make any defense-minded coach happy.

As for Holiday, he acknowledged wanting to get back on the court in the final minutes but contented himself with hollering at his teammates from the bench. It turns out that scoring isn't his only talent.

"I'm a cheerleader too," he said.

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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UCLA up next

Thursday at Texas, 6 p.m. PST, Frank Erwin Center, ESPN2 -- The 13th-ranked Bruins and the sixth-ranked Longhorns each finished third in early-season tournaments.

-- David Wharton

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