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UCLA Dominates Arizona, 75-59
Allow them to reintroduce themselves.
A mea culpa, if you would. I joined our friends at AZ Desert Swarm yesterday to preview this game and said that I felt Arizona was more ready for this game today and would pull out the victory.
So let me be the first to say that I am a dumb moron who doesn’t know anything.
The UCLA Bruins were ready for this game from the get-go, making seven of their first nine shots and playing their best defense of the season en route to a 75-59 victory over the Arizona Wildcats. The Bruins shot 50% from the field but made their bones on the defensive end, where they limited the Wildcats to 30.7% from the floor (25% from three) while recording eight blocks and forcing 14 turnovers.
It was really a bravura performance from a UCLA defense that has struggled for most of the season. Arizona packs a high-octane offense, but you would not have known that from watching this game, as the Bruins simply made everything difficult for their opponents. Look no further than the performance of Arizona’s Kerr Kriisa, who was a nightmarish 0-12 from the field, including 0-9 from distance. The Den rained down chants of “MVP” after Kriisa missed his final three-point attempt, but it was the UCLA defense that really earned those honors, as Kriisa was never able to feel comfortable and set his feet while shooting. It was that way all the way down the lineup. Arizona’s Player of the Year candidate Benn Mathurin ended up with 16 points but went 5-22 in the process. Azuolas Tubelis came into the game injured and really did not play like someone who was ready for major minutes. About the only Wildcat who looked half-way decent on offense was Christian Koloko, but that was mostly thanks to a series of lobs, and if Koloko is the guy you’re relying on offensively, you’re likely in trouble.
Coach Mick Cronin has preached making things difficult for opposing teams around the rim, and that was very much the case in this one. The second half was highlighted by a series of blocks by the Bruins, with Peyton Watson making multiple highlight reels while Jaime Jaquez and Myles Johnson got in on the act as well. Arizona was clearly not prepared for that level of physicality on the inside - one of the lasting images from this game will be Mathurin gasping for air after a series of blocks by the Bruins.
The Bruin offense was perfectly fine but excelled at hitting timely shots. The early game belonged to Johnny Juzang, who was matching Arizona shot for shot, then got support from Tyger Campbell and Cody Riley. The second half heralded the return of Jaime Jaquez, who had disappeared since the return from COVID but came out with a vengeance here. Jaquez scored all 10 of his points in the second half on 4-7 shooting and dominating play in a way that makes him such a fantastic player.
I am not of the opinion that the result of this game will be ultimately meaningful overall, but it certainly helps from a momentum standpoint to have a game like this. UCLA was struggling over the past few weeks, with some lackluster performances since returning from the COVID pause. This was something different; a reintroduction to the rest of the country, and an announcement that the Bruins are ready to become a force again.
Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard led the Bruins with 15 points apiece, while Bernard also had the team lead with seven rebounds and tied Tyger Campbell for the team lead with three assists each. Benn Mathurin led the Wildcats with 16 points.
Player of the Game: Jaime Jaquez - This was as much a team effort as anything else, but I’m giving credit to Jaquez here for breaking out of his slump and rising to the occasion. Jaquez ended up with 10 points, but throw in his five rebounds, two assists, and three blocks, and it was the kind of complete performance that has been missing from him for a while.
Everyone Loves a Block Party - I watched this game with friends, and at one point in the second half someone in the group commented that it felt like UCLA had blocked every single shot that Arizona had taken over a five-minute span. While not completely accurate, the Bruins really made a habit out of blocking shots in this game, ending up with eight in total which feels like UCLA’s season-high and I’m not going to bother checking that. Jaquez had three blocks, while Myles Johnson had two. Peyton Watson similarly had two, but both of his felt incredibly impactful and really got the crowd going. Tyger Campbell even got in on the block party with 1.
Things to Clean Up: Defensive Boards - Arizona outrebounded the Bruins in this one, which isn’t much of a surprise given the size difference, but the defensive boards were a particular problem for UCLA. Arizona was able to grab 21 offensive rebounds, and it is a minor miracle that they only scored 14 second-chance points off of those rebounds. I don’t think UCLA will be able to get away with that in the rematch next week, so that’s something that Coach Cronin will hopefully clean up in practice.
The Bruins will stick around at home this week, next playing UC Berkeley on Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00 PM PT.