LOS ANGELES — The freshmen who aren’t playing for UCLA have been getting all the headlines. Kris Wilkes is starting his career by holding things down in their absence.

Wilkes scored 20 points, including five straight in overtime, and No. 23 UCLA rallied past stubborn Central Arkansas 106-101 on Wednesday night, hours after three of the Bruins’ freshmen confessed to shoplifting in China and were indefinitely suspended.

Wilkes had 12 rebounds in salvaging the home opener for the Bruins (2-0), who edged Georgia Tech by three points to open the season last week during the China trip that turned into an international scandal. The freshman scored a leading 18 points in that victory.

Aaron Holiday led UCLA with 24 points and Thomas Welsh added 16 points and 11 rebounds.

“We’re all brothers and we’re going to have each other’s back no matter what happens,” Holiday said.

The Bears (1-2) started overtime with a 3-pointer and a free throw by Jordan Howard to lead 90-86. Howard led them with 35 points, including eight 3-pointers.

Thatch Unruh, who finished with 20 points before fouling out with 10 seconds left in overtime, hit a 3-pointer that drew the Bears to 97-95, but the Bruins were able to avoid the upset.

“It was a fun game,” Bears coach Russ Pennell said. “We just came up a little bit short.”

Howard’s 3-pointer from the right corner with 3 seconds remaining in regulation gave the Bears an 86-85 lead.

Howard’s shot was the Bears’ third straight 3-pointer in the final 41 seconds. They appeared on their way to closing out the upset before Mathieu Kamba fouled freshman Jaylen Hands in the lane. Hands missed the first three throw, drawing groans from the crowd, and made the second to force overtime.

The Bruins endured an unusual game day, which began with a news conference in which LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley admitted they had shoplifted from three high-end stores and apologized while reading prepared statements. Coach Steve Alford said the trio is indefinitely suspended, and they won’t be allowed to suit up for home games or travel.

“We know there’s a lot of adversity around us,” Alford said.

UCLA cruised to a 34-17 lead to open the game, including 14 straight points.

But the Bears answered with a 28-13 run to end the half trailing 47-45. They hit five 3-pointers in that span, including two each by Howard and Unruh.

EIGHT-MAN ROTATION

The Bruins went with the same starting lineup they used against Georgia Tech. Five of their eight-man rotation didn’t play last season, including sophomores Prince Ali and Alex Olesinski, who both red-shirted.

REWRITING RECORDS

Howard, a senior from Chandler, Arizona, now has 286 3-pointers in his career. He is 46 from breaking the Southland Conference record of 331 set by McNeese State’s Demond Mallett from 1997-01. His eight 3s against the Bruins fell one short of the school record for a single game and matched his performance against Morehead State last season.

“The Howard kid is special,” Alford said.

BIG PICTURE

Central Arkansas lost to No. 25 Baylor by 41 points in its opening game of the season. The Bears aren’t shying away from Pac-12 opponents, either. After UCLA comes California on Dec. 6 and Oregon on Dec. 20.

The suspended freshmen leave UCLA with an eight-man rotation. That’s what the Bruins used last season when they went 31-5 and lost in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

UP NEXT

Central Arkansas hosts Alcorn State on Sunday.

UCLA plays its second game as part of the Hall of Fame Classic, hosting South Carolina State on Friday.


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