LAS VEGAS — Aaron Holiday saw the lane open and took it — over and over.
Darting and dashing his way through Stanford’s defense, Holiday matched a career high with 34 points, dished out eight assists and grabbed seven rebounds in UCLA’s 88-77 victory against the Cardinal in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals on Thursday.
“I just tried to see the way they were playing me,” Holiday said. “Paint was open a lot, so I just tried to get in there and make plays. So if I can get in there, jump stop and find somebody and just shoot, it’s going to do well for our team.”
UCLA (21-10) got off to a fast start, withstood a late first-half run and held the Cardinal at arm’s length in the second half.
Holiday and Thomas Welsh carried most of the load, leading the Bruins into Friday’s semifinal game against No. 15 Arizona. Welsh had 18 points and 11 rebounds. Holiday made 12 of 25 shots, including 5 of 9 from the 3-point arc.
“Super happy for the two guys next to me, because a lot of pressure on these two,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said about Holiday and Welsh. “They’ve been tremendous with leadership all year long. They had a lot of pressure on them today, because we had about five guys going through this for the first time as far as the Pac-12 tournament goes, having minutes on the floor.”
Stanford (18-15) pulled within four by halftime, but never could make up the ground with point guard Daejon Davis in foul trouble.
KZ Okpala led the Cardinal with 23 points, and Reid Travis finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds.
“They’re an elite-level shooting team with arguably the best point guard in the country. And he played like that today,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase said. “It puts us in situations that we’re not really comfortable with, and when they’re able to knock in the shots like they did, this is the result you’ll get.”
UCLA entered the Pac-12 tournament on the NCAA Tournament bubble. A regular-season-ending win against rival and fellow bubble team USC gave the Bruins some breathing room, but a loss to Stanford could have made them sweat a little on Selection Sunday.
The Cardinal rolled over rival Cal in the Pac-12 first round and won the first meeting with UCLA in double overtime. The Bruins won by 16 at Westwood in the teams’ last meeting.
The Bruins got off to a fast start in the Pac-12 quarterfinal game, hitting 7 of their first 11 shots to build a 30-17 lead. The Cardinal stormed back behind Davis, going on a 15-2 run to tie the game at 32-all.
UCLA led 44-40 at halftime after Holiday scored 17 points.
“We were trying to make the right plays, probably just moving a little too fast,” Travis said. “I think we really just calmed down into the game and that helped us start to take care of the ball more.”
Holiday and Welsh carried UCLA in the second half, helping them stretch the lead to 71-63 with seven minutes left.
Davis went to the bench with his fourth foul 66 seconds into the second half, preventing the Cardinal from making much of a run.