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UCLA Starts Season With Bang, Defeats Cal State Bakersfield 95-58
The status of Cody Riley is going to be the big story coming out of this game, however.
Well, that was a fun way to start the season.
The UCLA Bruins entered the season with the #2 ranking in the country in the AP poll and expectations that this team should compete to return to the Final Four. They certainly played to that level in their first game of the season, hitting Cal State Bakersfield with a quick haymaker and refusing to let up over the course of 40 minutes en route to a 95-58 victory.
We’ll get to the victory in a second, but the big story coming out of this game will be the future status of Cody Riley. The senior post left the game early in the first half after a Bakersfield player crashed into his knee on a loose ball. Riley was ruled out for the rest of the game and was seen sitting on the sideline in street clothes during the second half. Riley is an important piece for UCLA, given that he and newcomer Myles Johnson form a potent 1-2 punch on the interior, and with Riley potentially out and Mac Etienne out for the year with a knee injury, Mick Cronin is going to have a few questions to answer as far as his interior rotations going forward.
But we won’t have answers regarding Riley’s status for a few days at least. So let’s turn to the game itself, which was over within the first ten minutes. The Bruins struggled a bit offensively, only making four of their first 13 shots, but the UCLA defense was more than up to the task. UCLA held the Roadrunners to 19 points on 25.8% shooting in the first half, effectively ending the game at halftime. In general, the Bruins look more confident in their abilities on that end of the court, and it probably helps that the Bruins have added a few rangy defenders in Myles Johnson and Peyton Watson that feel like absolute nightmares for opposing offenses to deal with. The Bruins had eight blocks and seven steals in total, a tribute to an increased effort level that they showed on that end.
Offensively, the usual suspects eventually got going, led by the Killer J’s (still looking to workshop that nickname!). Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard tied for the team lead with 19 points apiece, followed by Jaime Jaquez with 14. Tyger Campbell showed off his improved range by nailing both of his three-point attempts en route to 10 points, and Jaylen Clark had an excellent debut on the season, putting in 10 points on his own.
Peyton Watson made his official collegiate debut in this game, and it was a mixed bag for the talented freshman. Watson ultimately ended up with seven points on 2-11 shooting while also committing three turnovers, but his defensive effort balanced things out. Watson is a freak athlete who routinely showed an ability to recover and make the defensive play, and his 69.2 defensive rating was tied for the second-best on the team in the game.
Speaking of defensive rating, Myles Johnson and Jaylen Clark were the other two players under 70 on defensive rating, and I really want to see those three share the court more just to see what they can do as a defensive unit.
Maybe the most important stat of the game: no one on the team played more than 25 minutes. One of my big concerns over the course of last season was the minutes that some of the players were getting and that it would eventually wear them down, and while that ultimately did not prove to be the case, it was not a trend I wanted to see continue into this season. Fortunately, Coach Cronin is more willing to lean on his depth early on, as 10 different Bruins played at least 16 minutes. Not bad at all.
Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard led the team with 19 points each. Jaylen Clark led the team with seven rebounds, while Tyger Campbell led the team with four assists. Justin McCall led the Roadrunners with 11 points.
Player of the Game: Jules Bernard - Jules feels like a player that may have been lost in the hype surrounding the team, but the third member of the Killer J’s showed in this game that he’s just as lethal as his counterparts. Bernard was the co-leader in points on an efficient 6-10 shooting night while chipping in three rebounds and an assist in 17 minutes of play. If Jules continues this level of play throughout the season, the Bruins are going to be tough to beat.
Bruins Handle Early Adversity - Losing Cody Riley for any period of time sucks, but credit to the team for bouncing back quickly and putting the game to bed in the aftermath of that injury. CSUB is a scrappy, physical team, but the Bruins never really let them into the game.
Myles Johnson, Destroyer of Men - Lost in the shuffle of that recap above was the impact Myles Johnson had in this game. Though limited a bit by foul trouble, Johnson very much changed the way Bakersfield tried to attack offensively, and there were more than a few shots that were altered simply by Johnson being in the area of the shooter.
The Bruins will get a few days off before hosting the #4 Villanova Wildcats on Friday in a matchup of Top 5 teams. I for one am excited to be in that building for that matchup.