The cushy part of the season lasted all of one game.
UCLA found itself with bigger concerns than when to put in its walk-ons Monday night at Pauley Pavilion against Pepperdine, trailing late in the first half against a team that had dropped its opener to Portland State.
Shooting guard Malcolm Lee was lost to a left ankle injury not even six minutes into the game, and the Bruins struggled to replicate the crisp offensive display they had put on three days earlier against Cal State Northridge.
That's when UCLA found that the best way to handle the Waves was with its own epic swell, using a 26-2 surge during the middle portion of a 79-69 victory in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
The run spanned the last 2 minutes 21 seconds of the first half and the first 5:09 of the second half, the Bruins taking control of a game that had threatened to get away from them by repeatedly getting the ball to big men Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith.
"We did a much better job of attacking the zone in the second half and getting it inside," Coach Ben Howland said.
Nelson produced a crowd-pleasing block and scored five of his 20 points during the Bruins' 16-2 run to open the second half. Forward Tyler Honeycutt contributed a couple of baskets during the push and finished with 16 points.
Things could get even dicier for the Bruins (2-0) on Tuesday when they play host to Pacific (2-0) in the second round. At stake is a trip to Madison Square Garden for a semifinal in the 16-team tournament.
Nelson was a one-man force, making eight of 10 shots, grabbing 11 rebounds and going in for putback after putback. But the crowd seemed most impressed with his block of Jonathan Dupre's shot early in the second half, rewarding him with a drawn-out chant of "Ree-eeves!"
"It just took us a little bit to figure it out," Nelson said of the Waves' defense.
The wide-bodied Smith also proved to be too much for Pepperdine (0-2) to handle, repeatedly bulling his way in for easy lay-ins midway through the second half on the way to 13 points.
There was audible unease from the sparse crowd late in the first half when the Bruins trailed by four points and Jerime Anderson missed two free throws.
It was quite a departure from the Bruins' opener, when they rattled off the game's first 15 points and quickly dismantled Northridge. Howland suggested the 8 p.m. start time threw his team out of its rhythm.
There wasn't much of a flow to the offense, and passes seemingly had as much a chance of winding up in the hands of a Wave as a Bruin. The low point for UCLA came when Keion Bell (24 points) saved a ball headed out of bounds, redirecting it through Honeycutt's legs to Dupre for a jumper that gave the Waves a 34-26 lead.
The rest of the first half was all UCLA. The Bruins commenced a 10-0 run that ended with Lane's three-pointer that gave the Bruins a 36-34 lead. They would never trail again.
UCLA played most of the game without Lee after he limped off the court with 14:15 left in the first half. Though X-rays of Lee's ankle were negative, Howland said the junior would be unavailable Tuesday, thrusting freshman Tyler Lamb into the starting lineup.
Lamb made only one of 10 shots and finished with four points against the Waves.