LOS ANGELES — After beating up on mostly lesser competition, things are about to get serious for No. 11 UCLA.
The Bruins play at No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday before facing Michigan and Ohio State, a challenging start to December after they cruised past UC Riverside 98-56 to close out the first month of the season undefeated.
UCLA's 8-0 start is its best since coach Steve Alford's first season in Westwood three years ago.
"We've done a phenomenal job through eight games of sharing the ball and helping each other score," Alford said.
Isaac Hamilton scored 27 points, tying his career-high with seven 3-pointers, and freshman T.J. Leaf added 18 points and 10 rebounds for UCLA.
Aaron Holiday had 18 points and Thomas Welsh had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Lonzo Ball, the nation's assist leader, set a freshman game assist record with 13 for the Bruins, who were coming off winning the title at last week's Wooden Legacy. They hit nine of their 13 3-point attempts in the second half.
"Three games in four days, finals are starting and Kentucky looming on the weekend, this isn't an easy game no matter who we're playing," Alford said. "I liked our guys' mindset. That's all we talked about the last 48 hours. Once again, this team did a really great job of coming out and having a great mindset."
Secean Johnson scored 17 points despite foul trouble and Chance Murray added 13 points for the Highlanders (1-4). Freshman Dikymbe Martin was held to five points after scoring 15 against Utah last week.
"They can score so easy, they put so much pressure on your offense," Highlanders coach Dennis Cutts said. "You just can't match their offensive potency."
Five of UCLA's first six baskets in the second half were 3-pointers and Hamilton hit four of them, extending the Bruins' lead to 59-35.
Hamilton's sixth 3-pointer launched them on a 13-0 run that included another 3 from him and made it 69-35.
"When the ball moves like that, you're bound to hit shots like that," he said.
Ball set up his teammates with several nifty passes. He and Leaf teamed up three times in the second half. Ball dunked off Leaf's alley-oop pass and on the Bruins' next possession he set Leaf up for a dunk. Ball fed Leaf for another dunk later in the half that made it 85-42.
"Guys were hitting shots and I was getting them the ball," Ball said. "Everything was clicking."
The Bruins put the game away in the first half when they shot 58 percent and opened with a 23-9 run.
The Highlanders defended better and outscored the Bruins 16-8 to close to 31-25.
UCLA ran off 11 unanswered points, including Ball's first points of the game on consecutive baskets, and led 42-27 at halftime.
UC Riverside: The Highlanders have just one win in their first five games, but they have played some good competition. They lost road games to Portland (16 points), UNLV (12 points) and Utah (18 points) before losing to the Bruins. Their lone win came against Fresno Pacific. Last year, they won 14 games, second-most in the Division I history of the program under fourth-year coach Cutts, who has things on the upswing.
UCLA: The Bruins have beat up some easy competition on their way to an undefeated start. That all changes Saturday when they face No. 1 Kentucky on the road. The game will be a barometer of where they stand against the nation's best.
Unless the Bruins can duplicate their upset of top-ranked Kentucky a year ago, they figure to drop a spot or two in the rankings with a loss at Rupp Arena on Saturday.
Ball broke Pooh Richardson's freshman game assist record of 12, set against Washington State on Jan. 11, 1986. The school record of 16 was set by Earl Watson. For the first time in eight games, Ball didn't score in double figures. He took just three shots.
"I just take what the game gives me," he said.
UC Riverside: The Highlanders fell to 0-5 all-time against the Bruins. ... Martin was averaging a team-best 12.5 points and came in leading the team in several other categories.
UCLA: The Bruins' ranking matches their best since Feb. 9, 2009. ... They are one of two undefeated Pac-12 teams. ... G Prince Ali, who had right knee surgery in July, could return by late December. ... F Alex Olesinski has missed eight games so far with a stress reaction in his left foot.
UC Riverside: Visits Santa Clara on Dec. 13, capping a stretch of three straight road games.
UCLA: Plays Kentucky on Saturday for the third consecutive season. The Wildcats have been the nation's top-ranked team in each of the meetings. The Bruins upset them 87-77 last year at Pauley Pavilion for the school's first win over a No. 1 team since 2003. In 2014, the Wildcats won in Chicago by 39 points.