Uninspired UCLA Tries, Fails to Steal Game Against Oregon, Lose in OT 84-81
Lot of questions to ask after this one.
No one expected the UCLA Bruins to come out firing on all cylinders following a COVID pause that shut them down for the better part of a month, but I don’t think anyone expected a UCLA Bruins team that has refused to get out of its own way. UCLA was ultimately able to coast on their superior talent against UC Berkeley, but the Oregon Ducks, despite their performance this season to this point, have a talent level that can compete with the Bruins, and UCLA needed to be focused if they wanted to win.
They were not focused in the slightest.
UCLA ended a back-and-forth first half with a five-point lead, but outside of a frantic final minute of regulation, the game belonged to the Ducks from the second half on. Oregon’s effort level eclipsed UCLA’s in every facet of this game, and they were rewarded with an 84-81 victory.
There’s a lot to question from the Bruins following this one, starting with the play of Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell. Jaquez was a nightmare, ending the game with the same number of points as he did turnovers (four). Crucially, Jaquez went to the line in overtime with the chance to tie the game, and he continued his trend of poor late-game free-throw shooting by missing both attempts, which put UCLA in a hole they could never recover from. There are times when Jaquez can disappear, but this was a bad outing even by his standards. Campbell never seemed to get going offensively, ending the game with only four assists while only hitting three of his 10 field goal attempts. This is maybe unfair, but Campbell cannot afford to have off nights offensively, because he is by far the worst defender the Bruins have, and his 19.2 points allowed were by far the most on the team in this game (giving him a negative 7.2 points on the night).
UCLA also cannot afford bad nights from Campbell because there really isn’t a great option to replace him. The same cannot be said for Jaquez, and it was especially egregious in this game because Peyton Watson and Jaylen Clark both had excellent games. Watson in particular had his best game as a Bruin, putting up 10 points on 4-12 shooting (including 2-4 from three) while adding eight rebounds and two blocks in only 21 minutes of work. Clark was quieter offensively, but he was by far the best defender the Bruins had on the court, and his heady play late in regulation to grab a steal and game-tying layup is starting to have a level of predictability to it.
This is where I get into coach Mick Cronin. It is admirable that he chose to ride his starters despite their poor play, but at some point, he has to be willing to make the change. The play that stood out to me the most was in the middle of the second half when Jaquez was allowed to stay in the game after giving away free points with a lazy inbounds pass that was stolen for an easy layup. The Mick Cronin of the first few seasons would have given Jaquez a quick hook for his poor play, but instead, Jaime was allowed to stay in the game to continue to stink up the joint.
Cronin also seems unwilling to go to UCLA’s actual best lineup, which puts Jaylen Clark at center instead of Cody Riley and Myles Johnson. Riley is generally not a great defensive center, and teams have gotten smarter about how to attack Johnson defensively, which is to pull him out to the perimeter and attack him in the pick-and-roll. Clark is athletic enough to shut this plan of attack down, while still giving UCLA a solid interior rebounding presence. When paired up with Peyton Watson, they create a long, rangy pairing that can cover for the rest of the defense.
I highlight that this is the best defensive lineup that UCLA has because that is what ultimately lost the Bruins this game. The Bruins played strong defensively in the first half, holding Oregon to 30 points on 30.3% shooting. The second half was a different story, with Oregon scoring 43 points on 51.7% shooting, including 5-9 (55.6%) from deep. Coincidentally, Clark saw 11 minutes in the first half compared to only three in the second half while Jaquez went from nine to 18 minutes. Poor defense, in part due to poor personnel management, led to this loss.
Finally, I’ll note this before getting to the takeaways: the officiating in this game was bad, but not in a way that necessarily screwed UCLA over. I think it was just generally bad both ways, with both UCLA and Oregon never truly knowing what was going to be called a foul by the end of the game. So yes, the officiating was bad, but that’s not why UCLA lost.
Johnny Juzang led the Bruins with 23 points and nine rebounds. Tyger Campbell led the team with four assists. Jacob Young led the Ducks with 23 points.
Player of the Game: Peyton Watson - Juzang deserves some consideration here, but Watson truly did have something of a breakout game against a solid opponent. Watson was appropriately aggressive on offense, scoring 10 points and hitting two three-pointers in the process, but he made his presence felt on the boards and on defense. His eight rebounds were split evenly on the offensive and defensive ends, and he ended the game with two blocks (no idea how many deflections). If Watson can continue this level of play, he may start to rejustify the preseason projections of being an NBA lottery pick.
Juzang was good too - Johnny Juzang can get maligned by many for perceived poor defense, but he wasn’t bad compared to many of his teammates today, and he was one of a few Bruins who seemed to care in the second half. Juzang had 23 points and was UCLA’s best offensive player, but I was also impressed by his rebounding effort, as he led the team with nine rebounds, seven of which came on the defensive end. I would not be surprised if Juzang is starting to round into offensive form - it was around this time last year that Juzang started to show flashes of the future Johnny Buckets.
Second Half Power Outage - UCLA stayed in the locker room at halftime long enough that media in the building noted it. Clearly, whatever was said at halftime was not effective, as UCLA came out flat, and that carried through the rest of the game. This was a game UCLA could and likely should have won had they played with better effort, but UCLA seemed disinterested in performing at that level.
The Bruins will need to regroup quickly, as Oregon State comes to Pauley on Saturday. As of writing, the Beavers are in a dogfight with Southern Cal, so I would not say this is an easy out.