UCLA Has Jaylen Clark Now; Defeats Arizona State, 66-52
It's honestly amazing how the return of one player can change a matchup in a three-week span.
So this is the first game I’ve been able to write about since….wow since the Stanford game two weeks ago. I’ve been real busy (and was at the Southern Cal game) but I have gotten to watch the UCLA Bruins play basketball, and despite all the various injuries and players being held out, it’s starting to look like the Bruins are rounding into form as we get into the home stretch. There’s a pretty good reason for that as well:
Clark has gotten the chance to run with the ball thanks to various injuries to guys like Tyger Campbell and Johnny Juzang, and he has run with it. Clark was UCLA’s best player against the Washington schools, and he was the best player tonight against a resurgent Arizona State Sun Devils squad, leading the Bruins to a 66-52 win.
Clark’s return almost single-handedly swung a matchup that, just a few weeks ago, was a complete slog for the Bruins. Clark was everywhere for the Bruins, putting up a team-high 16 points and nine rebounds with no turnovers, while also putting up an absolutely absurd 64.3 defensive rating (the next-closest UCLA player was Jaime Jaquez at 80.2). Jaylen has been playing like a man possessed, and it is lifting the play of others such as Jules Bernard, who also put in 16 points and was much more aggressive at getting to the free-throw line, where he went perfect on seven attempts.
It also helps that the UCLA defense has improved tremendously over the past few weeks. Now, obviously, a good amount of that has to do with having an excellent defender in Jaylen Clark take up the minutes usually given to Campbell and Juzang, who are not nearly as good, but it also helps that Coach Mick Cronin has seemingly realized that Myles Johnson has finally figured out how to play defense within his system and is playing him more accordingly. Johnson doesn’t light up the scoreboard in the way his platoon-mate Cody Riley has the capacity to (he only had two points on 1-2 shooting) but his defense and length are finally starting to show through and combined with Clark create a potent 1-2 combination that makes it tough on opposing offenses. It also means that guys on the periphery like Jaquez, Bernard, and Juzang can become more aggressive. All three of those players recorded a steal on the night. Oh, and Jaylen Clark had three steals by himself.
The defensive improvement helped limit the Sun Devils in general. This was most notable from distance; in the first matchup, the Sun Devils shot 34.4% on 11-32 shooting from distance. Tonight? 5-19 for a poor 26.3%. UCLA was a bit below-average offensively in this game, but that’s the point - if UCLA’s defense plays to the level it can, then it doesn’t matter how the offense performs.
Anyway, good win, on to Oregon.
Jaylen Clark and Jules Bernard tied for the team lead with 16 points apiece. Jaime Jaquez had a double-double with a team-leading 10 rebounds. He also tied Cody Riley for the team lead with three assists. Three Arizona State players tied for the team lead with nine points apiece.
Player of the Game: Jaylen Clark - Was there any other choice? I wrote about him above, but it speaks to Clark’s play that he led the team both offensively and defensively, and he is making it extremely difficult to consider benching him when the starters all return to full health.
Defense Wins, Always - The Bruins have ratcheted up the defensive intensity in the last week. Part of that has to do with the increased presence of Jaylen Clark on the floor, but Myles Johnson’s contributions cannot go unnoticed here, as the former defensive standout at Rutgers is finally putting it all together. The two are combining for some excellent defensive basketball, and their level of play is raising the effort of everyone around them.
Bernard Giveth, Bernard Taketh - Jules Bernard had perhaps his best half of basketball in a month to start this game, putting up 10 points on an efficient 3-5 shooting. Second-half Jules was a different story, scoring six points on 1-5 shooting including a few airballs. Bernard was aggressive driving to the rim, which was nice, but it would be helpful to see him put together a complete game down the stretch here instead of spurts of good play.
The Bruins will head on the road now to visit the Oregon schools, starting with the Ducks on Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 PM PT.