PALO ALTO —
The massive early run and all those turnovers UCLA forced were not going to lead to the easy evening the Bruins once envisioned.
A sloppy stretch in the second half helped swing a Maples Pavilion crowd that once generated more noise for the visitors back squarely in favor of the home team.
When Stanford’s Brandon Angel rose for a three-pointer with 41/2 minutes left Thursday night, a UCLA lead that had once stood at 23 points was down to eight and the tension inside the old building was palpable.
It was then that the Bruins turned to a savvy friend to get them through the tough times.
Senior forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. banked in a short jumper and made a layup amid a sea of bodies to help the No. 21 Bruins persevere for an 80-66 victory in their Pac-12 Conference opener after having scored the game’s first 17 points.
“Your first road game is your scariest road game, especially with all our freshmen,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said, “so I was really happy with the way we started out and we rode that the rest of the way.”
Jaquez finished with 27 points on 12-for-17 shooting to help UCLA (6-2 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) make 59.3% of its shots and withstand a slipshod second half in which it committed 13 turnovers, Bruins fans finally exhaling with an eight-clap with about 11/2 minutes left.
Freshman guard Amari Bailey added 19 points and senior guard Tyger Campbell tallied 17 points and eight assists for the Bruins, who held the Cardinal (3-5, 0-1) to 45.3% shooting and 17 turnovers.
The game did not appear headed for a dramatic finish given its lopsided start. Only a few seconds after tipoff, UCLA’s Jaylen Clark double-teamed Brandon Ingram, the extra help confounding the Stanford forward and forcing a traveling violation.
The Cardinal couldn’t even get the ball past halfcourt on its next possession. A 10-second violation continued a procession of turnovers that made it seem as if Stanford had never faced a full-court press.
Stanford’s first nine possessions ended in futile fashion. Seven turnovers and two missed shots later, the Cardinal remained scoreless. UCLA had rolled off the game’s first 17 points while making all eight shots.
“That was a great way to come out and just put our foot on their neck,” Bailey said.
The chant that serenaded the Bruins after Jaquez stole an inbounds pass for a breakaway dunk provided comforting familiarity in their first true road game of the season.
“U-C-L-A!” fans shouted.
Jaquez said the most important part of the game-opening spurt was what the Bruins did defensively.
“The key was to disrupt their offense, not let them run their sets,” Jaquez said. “They’re a major set play team, so if we don’t let them run their sets, we just thought they were going to be lost and not know what to do.”
The Bruins held a 50-29 halftime lead after shooting 62.9% to Stanford’s 43.5% and forcing nine Cardinal turnovers.
The highlights included what looked like a Bailey trapeze act given the way he flew toward the basket for a put-back dunk that had his teammates flapping towels on the bench in celebration.
“Our ball movement in the first half was as good as it’s been since I’ve been here side to side,” Cronin said. “It was a layup drill.”
Cronin blamed himself for his team’s second-half letdown, saying he should have played his reserves more to keep his starters fresh and the intensity level as high as it was early in the game.
Jaquez played 37 minutes, Campbell 36 and Bailey 32, numbers that Cronin regretted even after his team posted its third consecutive victory.
More help could be on the way soon. Cronin said Will McClendon, a redshirt freshman guard who sat out last season with a knee injury, could make his college debut Sunday against Oregon, giving the Bruins another option.
McClendon has already helped by providing another practice body that’s allowed UCLA to enhance the full-court press that’s worked so effectively the last two games.
“It’s just so many things to get in when you’ve got all these freshmen, just so much to teach,” Cronin said. “The press is the last thing.”
If the way the Bruins unleashed it in the first half is any indication, they’re quick learners.