UCLA Caught Looking Ahead, Still Beat Bellarmine 75-62
The starters were collectively not good but at least Peyton Watson finally got going.
Well, that was certainly a game.
The UCLA Bruins play Gonzaga on Tuesday. I state that at the beginning because UCLA actually played a game today against an outmatched Bellarmine squad, which was apparently news for the starting lineup. The Bruins looked disinterested with the very idea of playing basketball for large stretches of this game, ultimately coming away with a 75-62 win.
This really looked like a game that the Bruins starters felt they could coast through, and ultimately they were right. That said, this was a 10-point game with a minute left. Not ideal when you’re the #2 team in the country and your opponent is only in their second year of DI basketball. UCLA’s starters went 15-46 from the field, with Johnny Juzang being the only starter with double digits. It never felt like this group was comfortable in their first game this year outside of the confines of Pauley Pavilion, but if anything that should fuel them for a better performance tomorrow.
The defense from the starters was similarly not-great. Bellarmine has a fast-paced attack, and too often it looked like the Bruins were not prepared for the speed at which the Knights wanted to operate at. For example, it felt like every time I looked up Tyger Campbell was getting beat on a backdoor cut. Jaime Jaquez was the only UCLA starter with a defensive rating under 100. Just not good enough, even considering the opponent.
That said, the play of the starters ultimately did not matter thanks to the efforts of Peyton Watson and David Singleton. Peyton Watson finally had a breakout performance this season, putting in a team-high 19 points on 9-12 shooting, including hitting his first three-pointer of the season. Watson was able to slash and use his athleticism to constantly hurt the Knights on offense, while his length and size caused problems on defense. David Singleton similarly continues his stretch of impressive play to open the season, putting in 13 points on 5-8 shooting, including 3-4 from deep. Ironically enough, the misses he had were ones where he was run off the line and went in for a pull-up inside the line, causing color commentator and former Bruin Sean Farnham to joke that the shots were too close-range for Singleton.
Ultimately, I think this was not the nightmare game it appears to be at first glance. Again, it feels pretty clear that this team was looking ahead to tomorrow night, and Coach Mick Cronin’s postgame, in which he stated that he considered this game to be a loss, signals that this team will come out more focused tomorrow. That’s the biggest takeaway.
Peyton Watson led the Bruins with 19 points. Myles Johnson led the team with 11 rebounds, while Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez tied for the team lead with five assists each. Dylan Penn led Bellarmine with 19 points.
Player of the Game: Peyton Watson - This was a nice coming-out party for Watson, who has looked lost at times to open up the season but really came into his own in this game. He’s young and did not play a ton of basketball this year, but this game provided the blueprint for what he should look to do going forward. Watson played within himself, did not look to do too much, and was rewarded with the highest scoring output of his young season.
At Least They’re Sharing - The Bruin offense was not its usual high-efficiency self, but one thing I did notice was how many assists the team had. This is the third-straight game where the Bruins had 20+ assists, which was more impressive considering how few shots they made in comparison to the previous two. Five different Bruins had at least three assists, another good sign for how unselfish this team is.
Mix and Match - Coach Cronin clearly did not expect this game to end up close enough to become a loss, because he spent a lot of time mixing up the lineups and trying out different combinations. The results were a bit messy at times, and Jaylen Clark was weirdly the casualty of all the changes, but this was at least helpful for Cronin to see what these guys can do in different spots.
The next game is the big one. UCLA and Gonzaga tip-off at 7:00 PM PT tomorrow.