Cronin Finally Plays the Good Lineup, UCLA Beats Washington 77-66
Jaime Jaquez had a career-high 30 points in the win.
At halftime, I wrote the following in the game thread:
I take it back, Mick should stop experimenting. Seriously stop experimenting and just play Clark and Johnson the entire time, because your defense is giving up 48% shooting at the half.
UCLA was losing to Washington 29-25 at the time. The Bruins could not make a shot, but perhaps more crucially, they were having trouble getting stops, with the Huskies shooting 48% from the field. Shockingly, Mick Cronin listened to me, putting Jaylen Clark in for David Singleton about a minute into the second half. Clark immediately paid off with a fast-break layup, and the Bruins went off to the races, opening up a double-digit lead that they would not relinquish for the rest of the game, ultimately winning by the final score of 77-66.
It is hard to overstate just how much the game changed in the second half. As I have mentioned repeatedly, UCLA’s best defensive lineup features both Clark and Myles Johnson, and whatever offensive liabilities these two have are clearly overshadowed by their defensive ability and how they lock up opposing offenses. Coach Cronin waited until the second half to put both players on the court at the same time, and in the five minutes they shared to start the half, Washington was only able to score a grand total of two points. In that same time frame, UCLA was able to go from down a point to a 10-point lead.
That’s really the crux of this game if you think about it. Mick Cronin is a defensive coach, and UCLA is at its best when it is locked in on defense. There is a lingering question of why it took Cronin an entire half to remember what his best defensive lineup is, but once UCLA focused on that end this game was never in doubt. And if you’re looking for takeaways beyond the three at the bottom, it’s that it is the defense and not the offense that will carry this team far in March.
Once again, UCLA’s offense was a disappointment for the first half before finally figuring things out in the second. Outside of Jaime Jaquez (more on him in a moment), UCLA could not hit a shot to save their lives. Tyger Campbell went an abysmal 0-7 from the field in the first half, with Jules Bernard (1-6) and Cody Riley (1-5) only doing marginally better. The second half was much improved, likely due to Jaquez and Clark shooting more while those first three shot much, much less. To their credit, Bernard was much more locked-in defensively in the second half, and Riley….well he tried more, I guess.
The offensive story of the game will rightly be Jaime Jaquez. Scoring a new career-high with 30 points will do that. Washington never seemed to have an answer for Jaquez. Actually, I take that back; Washington seemed actively disinterested in trying to find an answer to Jaquez, instead repeatedly covering him with one poor defender in today’s latest example of Mike Hopkins being a fraud as a coach. Nothing slowed down Jaquez, who seems to have figured out how to play on his hobbled ankles by reaching into his bag of tricks and drawing fouls on any poor Husky defender who got stuck trying to defend him. There’s probably a question of why he needed to play 36 minutes in this game, but when a guy is cooking like Jaquez was, you can forgive it a bit.
Jaime Jaquez led the Bruins with 30 points. Cody Riley led the team with 11 rebounds, while Tyger Campbell led the team with four assists. Terrell Brown Jr. led the Huskies with 20 points.
Player of the Game: Jaime Jaquez - I mean, was it going to be anyone else? Jaquez had a career-high 30 points while also grabbing nine rebounds, one short of a double-double. Jaquez is likely never going to be 100% with the season winding down, but he’s learning to play with the pain, and that’s all we can realistically hope for at this point.
Play Clark and Johnson, Win Game - Mick Cronin finally went to his defensive spine in the second half, and that coincided with UCLA decisively taking over the game. UCLA’s best shot at victory has to be their defense, which means Cronin really needs to play this combination more to shut opponents down.
A Moment for the Pac-12 Refs - At one point in the second half, Washington shot four straight free throws after the referees apparently called flagrant fouls well after the fact. UCLA would, not even 5 minutes later, have Tyger Campbell shoot flagrant free throws despite David Singleton being the guy who got elbowed in the throat. Throw in the hilarious amount of foul calls that ground the game to a slow crawl, and we were one time-clock issue away from this being the magnum opus of a banner year for poor Pac-12 Conference officiating.
UCLA finally gets a few days off before finishing off the regular season by hosting Southern Cal on Saturday. Mick Cronin is still looking for his first victory over the cross-town rivals, so I have to assume the team will try and be locked in for this one. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 PM PT.