LOS ANGELES — An hour before The Master’s University’s exhibition game at UCLA on Tuesday night, new students learned sacred Bruin chants from cheering-section veterans. When to clap, what to yell, when to yell it. Then, in keeping with a theme of initiation, UCLA’s men’s team introduced the NAIA Mustangs to high-level NCAA Division 1 basketball. The Bruins ran away with a 100-58 win in TMU’s final exhibition before opening its regular season on the road Friday. “I wanted to see them compete, period,” said first-year TMU coach Kelvin Starr, adding he felt his team competed better after halftime. “I knew it was going to be an absolute battle, no question. I mean, UCLA is the real deal.”
The AP Top-25 No. 16 Bruins opened the game with a 15-2 run and then used a 15-0 spurt two minutes later to pull more than comfortably ahead. Referencing weeks of only practice leading up to the game, UCLA coach Steve Alford said, “It was really good to play someone else.” After its next game, TMU will likely say the same. Pinpoint shooting from long range (7-of-12 on 3-pointers) propelled UCLA to a 59-28 halftime lead in a game that served as the home debut of one of the nation’s most vaunted freshman — and 6-foot-6-inch Lonzo Ball didn’t disappoint, slamming home an alley-oop, dishing a slick behind-the-back assist and finishing with 14 points in 32 minutes. He had 10 rebounds and six assists in all. The Mustangs, too, had a few highlights. Lawrence Russell’s bounce pass to 6-10 freshman Timothy Soares for a transition dunk. Reid Shackelford’s Euro step along the baseline for a layup shortly before the break. But TMU shot 26 percent from the field, and a dismal 2-for-13 from three, in the first half, a start the Mustangs will look to improve on Friday when they travel to take on the University of Antelope Valley. UCLA opens its regular season at home on Nov. 11 against Pacific. The Bruins are coming off of only their fourth losing season since 1948, the year John Wooden took over. But a highly regarded 2016 recruiting class, highlighted by Ball, Ike Anigbogu and TJ Leaf, has energized Westwood. Leaf, the younger brother of TMU assistant coach Troy Leaf, posted 19 points and 12 rebounds Tuesday. Shackelford led TMU with 15 points, while Russell followed with 13. “I don’t really focus on who I’m playing,” said Shackelford of why he’s scored in double figures against Michigan State, Fresno State and now UCLA over the last three seasons. Along with Shackelford, the Mustangs return three other starters from last year’s 4-20 team. However, an influx of talented newcomers, like Russell, could mean a quick turnaround. Transfer sophomore Hansel Atencia scored 12 points in front of a boisterous Mustangs cheering section of roughly 1,200 fans. “Fan ratio here isn’t far off from 50-50,” tweeted Los Angeles Times reporter Ben Bolch in the first half. “And The Master’s fans are definitely more into the game so far.” Still, pleas of “defense” couldn’t stymie Bryce Alford’s silky jumpers (he had 22 points) or 7-footer Thomas Welsh’s methodical, effective post play (10 points, seven boards).