UCLA Bruins Escape Against Pepperdine in Triple Overtime, Win 107-98
Great teams cover the spread. They usually don't need three overtimes to do so.
The UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team desperately needed a win against the Pepperdine Waves on Friday. They got one, pulling away (extremely) late to earn a 107-98 victory, but this won’t be a game that will leave a positive impression on UCLA fans.
Let’s start with general issues. To begin: UCLA does not feel very good on offense at the moment. While the Bruins ultimately shot 43.9% from the field in this game, it came on 36-82 shooting, with an abysmal 10-34 (29.4%) from deep. Add in poor free-throw shooting (67.6% on 25-37 shooting) and you have a recipe for disaster against a better opponent. The biggest problem is the Bruins would go on long stretches of poor offensive play that would continually allow Pepperdine to get back into the game. Things had “improved” since the opening game against San Diego State - the Bruins turned the ball over less, for example - but this still felt like a Bruin team that can play much better.
The defense was ok overall, which isn’t a great place to be under Mick Cronin. Certainly things improved after halftime, as the Bruins allowed Pepperdine to shoot 46.2% from the field in the first half but held them to 30.8% in the second half. That improved defensive effort in the second half allowed UCLA to get back into the game after being down seven at the half, but I’m not sure what it says about UCLA at the moment that that first half effort occurred. The defense had more issues in overtime, but I think you can blame a lot of that on fatigue (more on this in a moment).
Credit, of course, should go to Pepperdine for playing very good basketball under old UCLA friend turned foe Lorenzo Romar. Colbey Ross in particular went off against the Bruins, putting up 33 points in 55 minutes of play to lead all scorers. The Waves never gave up after letting the Bruins back into the game, and I think that definitely played a factor on some level, as UCLA clearly looked like they expected Pepperdine to roll over once they made their comeback.
Fatigue was clearly a factor for the Bruins for a variety of reasons. First, the team is still not at full health, with Jalen Hill and Johnny Juzang both out at the moment. The loss of Hill is the bigger loss at the moment, as it severely hampers UCLA’s interior depth, leaving Cody Riley as the only true option at the moment (Cronin seems unwilling to play Kenneth Nwuba at the moment, when this feels like the exact moment you should be playing him). When Riley got two early fouls in the first half, Cronin opted for a small-ball lineup that slid Smith and Jaquez down the lineup with three guards. The shift hurt the Bruins, as they did not seem to have much of an offensive gameplan without an interior presence, and Pepperdine was similarly able to capitalize on the Bruins lacking someone on the interior. Hill is such a huge loss for this team at the moment because he papers over so many issues the Bruins have on both sides of the floor.
Cronin’s rotations were very suspect in this game. With Riley hurt by early foul trouble, Cronin turned to the trio of Chris Smith, Jaime Jaquez Jr., and Tyger Campbell to carry more of the load, and while they were ultimately able to do so, they also played an unrealistic number of minutes so early in the season. Jaquez in particular looked completely gassed by overtime, coming up short on a variety of free-throws and being late on rotations, which is easy to explain once you realize he never came out of the game. The Bruins were already down players due to injury, so not playing some of the bench options on top of that was just playing with a hand tied behind your back. As mentioned, Nwuba never saw the court to spell guys on the interior, but Jake Kyman only saw 11 minutes of action while true freshman Jaylen Clark came in for a grand total of what felt like 30 seconds. The Bruins essentially ran a six-man rotation in a triple-overtime game, which is going to hurt the Bruins in the coming weeks.
Still, there were some positives to take from this game. As stated, UCLA’s defense finally looked locked-in for the first time this season, which is a good sign going forward now that the Bruins are facing an easier stretch of the schedule. Plus, you have to like the fight UCLA showed by never giving in against a clearly-game opponent. That tenacity is what carried the Bruins through the end of last season, and it’s good to see that it hasn’t left the team despite the various steps backward.
Chris Smith led the Bruins with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Tyger Campbell led the team with seven assists. Colbey Ross led the Waves with 33 points.
Player of the Game: Jules Bernard - I think you could make the argument for Cody Riley being the PotG for the Bruins just based on how much better they looked when he was on the court, but I went with Bernard because he continually stepped up when the team needed someone. Bernard ended with a career-high 21 points on an efficient 7-15 shooting, including going 6-8 from the FT line. He chipped in six rebounds, limited himself to just one turnover (which has been a problem point for him in the past) and crucially came up with a block to send the game to overtime. Bernard was a guy I wondered about going into the season, so it feels good to see him step up when called upon.
Area of Concern: Three-point shooting - There’s a lot of various problems that could go here, but a lot of them (rebounding, points in the paint, etc.) get solved when Jalen Hill returns. The three-point shooting, however, is a bigger issue considering how many shots the team took here. UCLA wants to shoot the three, and are built to take those open shots, but shooting 29.4% for the game is never going to cut it. Jaquez was the biggest culprit here (1-7 for the game) but Campbell and David Singleton (both 3-9) did not help in this regard. The Bruins got open looks, but they need to start converting those.
Refs in midseason form - I left it out of the general recap up there, but goodness this was an atrocious game from the referees. There were 54 fouls called in this game, which can at least be explained by the length of the game, but still made for an unwatchable affair in part because so many of the foul calls both ways were of the ticky-tack variety. It also did not help that the referees continually goofed on bigger calls, such as awarding four extra seconds out of nowhere to end regulation, or a clearly-missed out-of-bounds call that created a five-point swing for Pepperdine, down to a ridiculously-long review session that added 0.3 seconds to the game clock, leaving 29.8 seconds in the game. The tight calls certainly did not help either team establish any sort of rhythm on offense either. Let’s try to be better, hey refs?
UCLA next plays on Monday, when it hosts Long Beach State.