LOS ANGELES -- UCLA showed its youth Monday night in a first-round game of the NIT Season Tipoff, but it also showed the resiliency that good team chemistry can bring in coming from behind to defeat Pepperdine, 79-69, at Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins (2-0) struggled early, unable to get the ball inside against Pepperdine’s zone and got flustered as they fell behind, 34-26, with 2 minutes 40 seconds left in the first half.
But a 10-0 run to end the first half gave UCLA a 36-34 halftime lead and the momentum the Bruins needed to start the second half on a 16-2 run to take control of the game with a 52-36 lead.
That spurt is exactly the type of progress that brings a smile to the face of coach Ben Howland, who has a team with no seniors, is starting a freshman at center and has sophomores Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt as its top two players.
"You can tell from watching our team tonight just how young we are, how inexperienced we are," Howland said. "There’s no substitute for experience. As these kids continue to grow and get better, I think it’ll get more and more fun."
Nelson, who had a second consecutive double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, was particularly effective in the second half with 13 points and 10 rebounds after the break.
He said the Bruins were thrown off a bit by playing the second game of a doubleheader and also because it was the first televised game for UCLA this season.
“I think a lot of it was when we came out our routine was kind of messed up,” he said. “And then playing on TV for the first time and not being prepared for all that kind of stuff and that combined with not playing that well to begin with.”
But the lesson to be taken here is that the Bruins overcame the slow start. They faced adversity and conquered it, something that was an issue last season.
“It’s a very young team and we’re going to have periods like we had in the first half,” Howland said. “I was just happy with how we rebounded from that and had a good beginning to the second half.”