UCLA Ruins Arizona State's Night, Completes the Comeback to Win 80-79
The Bruins seem to love knocking off the Sun Devils at the last minute at home.
Hey, remember this from last year?
Well, the same thing almost happened this year.
I had to say almost because, while UCLA did ultimately complete the comeback and knock off Arizona State at home once again, this one was a bit less anti-climactic. Instead of a buzzer-beating three-pointer, the Bruins won with….a free throw from true freshman Jaylen Clark.
So yeah, basically the same thing.
Arizona State gave the Bruins all they could handle in this one. You might remember that the last meeting between the two teams went to overtime, and the Sun Devils were without the services of their best player Remy Martin. Martin did everything he could to remind the Bruins of that fact, putting in 25 points on the night, including a 5-9 outing from three. But his play down the stretch is going to be the focus for Arizona State fans, as he had a host of questionable decisions that let the Bruins back into the game down the home stretch.
The Bruins really did struggle defensively for most of this game, especially on the perimeter. This shouldn’t be much of a shock at this point - UCLA’s perimeter defenders are not good, and they don’t have the interior presence of Jalen Hill at the moment to protect them - but it still hurt to watch at times. The Sun Devils continually found ways to hurt the Bruins, and for most of the game they were able to keep UCLA at arm’s length.
But in the end, it was a team effort that brought home the victory. Cody Riley looked rejuvenated, putting in 17 points and going a perfect 6-6 from the field and 5-5 from the free-throw line. His primary backup Mac Etienne had a big night as well, adding nine points and playing exceptional defense in his 14 minutes of relief. Jaime Jaquez did not have the scoring touch he did Thursday against Arizona, but he still hustled for 39 minutes and was one point short of a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds.
And really, that’s where this game turned. UCLA was not great for large stretches of the game, but the rebounding battle let them stay in it. The Bruins outrebounded the Sun Devils 37-25, and were able to score 14 second-chance points compared to just five for Arizona State. This was the rare game where UCLA, in its weakened state, was on even footing on the interior with an opponent, and it made all the difference in the world.
Before heading into the Takeaways, I want to focus on Jaylen Clark really quickly. Clark found himself on the court at the end of the game because the Bruins had gotten a defensive stop and Coach Mick Cronin had decided to let them play out the final possession (you might have realized he did the same thing last year against Arizona State). Tyger Campbell took the ball on a drive but his floater attempt came up short, but this is where Clark comes in. Clark made the excellent decision to crash the boards, and found himself all alone with the rebound. Arizona State was forced to foul him just to prevent an easy put-back attempt, and so Clark found himself at the free-throw line with the game on the line. Yes, he missed the first attempt, but he showed immense mental fortitude to regroup and sink the second shot, which gave UCLA its first lead of the game. Clark has really grown this season, but for the freshman to come up as huge as he did in the final moments of a game like this speaks volumes about both his ability and the faith Coach Cronin has in him to make the right play. So kudos to Clark for stepping up in the big moment.
Thanks to Arizona knocking off Southern Cal earlier in the night, UCLA has again found itself tied atop the conference. They still have a major hill to climb, and the Rocky Mountain Road Trip looms next, but in spite of everything that has happened, the Bruins still find themselves in reach of a conference championship. Let’s see if they can pull it off.
Cody Riley led the Bruins with 17 points. Jaime Jaquez led the team with 10 rebounds, and Tyger Campbell led with six assists. Remy Martin led the Sun Devils with 25 points.
Player of the Game: Jaime Jaquez - I didn’t get the chance to give him all of the love on Thursday, so I’ll do so tonight, and while Cody Riley might have had the better offensive game, Jaquez was the all-around best player for the Bruins on both ends of the court, and he did it for 39 minutes. The last few games, really since the second half against Washington, have seen Jaquez step up his effort, especially on the defensive end, and it’s led to some of his best play of the season. Perfect time for it to happen as well.
Area of Concern: Perimeter defense - In that UCLA does not have much, and it is easily exploited by skilled players like Martin. We knew this would be UCLA’s defensive issue all year, and there’s no real reason for me to get more into it at this point. It is what it is.
Coach Cronin Bags Win #400 - Other game ball goes to Coach Cronin, and check out how happy the team is to celebrate. Even when things get down, it’s hard not to get the impression that they’d run through a wall for Cronin.
UCLA heads off on the Rocky Mountain Road Trip next, starting in Utah on Thursday.