Survive and Advance, UCLA Avoids Disaster, Defeats Akron 57-53
I'm so tired.
Survive and Advance. It’s the name of the game this time of year, and boy did the UCLA Bruins get a lesson in that fact tonight.
UCLA played extremely poorly for the vast majority of their opening-round matchup against the Akron Zips, trailing for the majority of the contest and shooting like a team that was afraid to play the game of basketball. It was a miserable experience for everyone watching, until all of a sudden it wasn’t, as the Bruins went on a late run that allowed them to put the game away and win by the final score of 57-53.
I don’t know how much I really want to talk about the majority of this game. The UCLA defense was fairly good - if you hold your opponent to 53 points and 39.6% shooting, you’re going to win a lot of games - but there was definitely a bit of luck involved as the Zips missed a good amount of open looks. But the Bruins made things difficult and were able to turn things up when they needed to. Offensively….yeah, the less said about this one, the better. Johnny Juzang returned to the struggle bus he’s been on since returning from injury, and he was joined by Jules Bernard for this game; the two went 7-22 from the field, including 3-10 from distance, and it just felt like so many UCLA possessions ended up empty because of these two. Cody Riley was miserable for almost the entirety of this game on both sides of the court, which was troubling as he was forced into larger minutes thanks to early foul trouble to Myles Johnson. The Zips were able to extend their lead to eight with eight minutes left. Things looked bad.
And then in a flash, the Bruins won. This is maybe speaking to what this UCLA team has shown they can be, but UCLA possesses a clutch gene that few teams seem to possess, where even if things look hopeless, you can still assume that the Bruins have a gear that so many other teams just lack. Jaime Jaquez was able to take over late. Tyger Campbell hit a logo three-pointer late in a shot clock. Riley made an excellent defensive play, and Juzang secured a pivotal rebound. Survive and advance.
There are obviously going to be questions going into Saturday’s matchup with a Saint Mary’s squad that looked extremely good in their opening game. The rotations were again questionable, especially when guys like Peyton Watson gave excellent minutes but found themselves stapled to the bench while Juzang and Bernard were allowed to stink up the place for long stretches. The offense again raises questions of how effective the scheme can truly be if guys are not playing at a high level. Saint Mary’s plays UCLA’s game possibly better than the Bruins even do.
But those are questions for Saturday. Right now, the Bruins are still here, surviving and advancing.
Tyger Campbell led the Bruins with 16 points. Jaime Jaquez led the team with nine rebounds and six assists. Xavier Castaneda led the Zips with 18 points.
Player of the Game: Jaime Jaquez - Jaquez was by far UCLA’s best player for the vast majority of the game. He wasn’t efficient from the field, only shooting 3-10 and missing more interior shots than we’ve seen in recent weeks, but he did a great job of drawing fouls and getting to the line, where he went 8-9 to score over half of his 15 points. He also led the team in both rebounds and assists while playing solid defense throughout. Fact is, UCLA is not in this game late without Jaime’s contributions.
Area of Concern: Turnovers - UCLA is one of the best teams in the country when it comes to limiting turnovers, but in the first half of this game it was seemingly all the Bruins could do. Things were cleaned up in the second half, and the Bruins ultimately ended up with only eight turnovers, but the way that UCLA seemed flustered by high-ball pressure from the Zips is concerning, especially from Tyger Campbell who is normally very careful with the ball.
Some Perspective - Kentucky, the favorite in the East bracket, lost tonight. Iowa, who emerged as a favorite in the Midwest, is now out of the tournament. Gonzaga, the #1 overall seed, was in a dogfight for 30 minutes before ultimately pulling away. The NCAA Tournament has the nickname March Madness for a reason, so for the Bruins to play this poorly and still grind out a victory speaks to the drive the team possesses.
On to the next round, as the Bruins will take on the Saint Mary’s Gaels for a spot in the Sweet 16. Tip-off is scheduled for 4:10 PM PT.