UCLA Grinds Out Win Over Marquette, 69-60
The Bruins showed out on defense in the second half to secure the win.
I think there was some level of apprehension regarding the UCLA Bruins at the moment, especially as they had proceeded to beat up on outmatched teams. To that end, tonight’s visit from the Marquette Golden Eagles was always set up as an important barometer to see if the team had grown. Instead, we got a game where UCLA was outrebounded handily, got nightmare performances from star offensive players in Chris Smith and Cody Riley, and spent portions of the night praying that a shot would fall.
And all of that didn’t matter, because UCLA’s defense proved itself to be great enough to carry the load when the offense has an off night, lifting the Bruins to a 69-60 victory.
This was a huge game for the UCLA Bruins on a number of fronts. As stated, Marquette is no pushover - this team beat a highly-ranked Wisconsin squad last week, and has a great statistical profile early this season. The Bruins wanted a good showing to remind everyone that they are a good team, and that’s exactly what they got. UCLA held Marquette to 41.5% on the night, but it’s the second half numbers that really jump out: 28.6% from the field, including 0-11 from distance. That is next-level stuff and a great example of what Coach Mick Cronin wants from his squad on a nightly basis. The Bruins forced 18 turnovers by the Golden Eagles, including a bevy of offensive foul calls, and picked up six steals on the night.
The Bruins completely shut down the Golden Eagles in that second half. DJ Carton, who led Marquette with 14 points in the first half, was held to just four in the second on 1-6 shooting. Other players saw similar dips; the only Marquette player who saw notable improvement in the second half was Dawson Garcia, and he was so bad in the first half that a shift back to the mean was bound to lead to improvement. Crucially, when the Bruins really needed to close things out, they were able to do so - Marquette hit a jumper with 2:50 remaining to cut the UCLA lead to three, but would not score for the rest of the game. The Bruins forced bad shots and rushed possessions when they needed them the most.
UCLA’s defensive effort was huge because the offense ran into some issues in this one. On the one hand, that makes sense - Marquette’s defense is perhaps better than UCLA’s, and they have a solid frontline that can win a lot of battles. UCLA’s shooters generally had a rough night, shooting 41.1% from the field. Chris Smith (0-8 from the field, made four FTs) and Johnny Juzang (3-12 for nine points) both struggled mightily, while other major offensive components like Cody Riley (1-3, three points) and Tyger Campbell (2-3, four points, nine assists) were relative non-factors.
But UCLA has shown this year that they have a more egalitarian view of the offense, where any player can step up and be “the guy” on any given night. This time, it was the combination of Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jules Bernard who stepped up in a major way. Jaquez was a force for UCLA on offense, putting up 18 points on 7-12 shooting, and generally coming up with a big offensive play when the Bruins required it. Bernard was equally effective, showcasing his newfound confidence despite sliding back to the bench by putting up 15 points on 5-7 shooting. On a night where so many Bruins were cold, it was great to see these two step up big.
It feels as though UCLA is ahead of schedule in Cronin’s second year. It’s already difficult enough to beat good teams, but to do so when you’re not playing at your best is an entirely different story. The Bruins struggled offensively, but the defense proved it is more than good enough to carry this team to victory. That’s a great sign for the program, and a terrible sign for the rest of the conference.
Jaime Jaquez led the Bruins with 18 points. Chris Smith and Jules Bernard tied for the team lead with seven rebounds, while Tyger Campbell led the team with nine assists. DJ Carton led the Golden Eagles with 18 points.
Player of the Game: Jules Bernard - Bernard had one hell of a game in response to moving back to the bench. His 15 points were the second-most on the team, but his 85.5 defensive rating actually led the team in this one. I understand the shift to move Juzang into the starting lineup - when he’s hot, he provides a level of outside shooting and size that is hard for opposing teams to handle - but Bernard showed that he can remain a major rotation piece with this performance against a good Marquette squad.
Area to Improve: Rebounding - Credit to Marquette, who have plenty of size and are a great rebounding team, but UCLA really struggled in this one. A late spat of rebounds brought the numbers closer, but UCLA was still outrebounded by six on the game, and gave up 12 offensive rebounds. Critically, UCLA got middling rebounding production from the typically-solid Jaylen Hill, and almost nothing from Cody Riley. It felt like the frontcourt did not want to be too aggressive in order to avoid foul trouble, but that’s a recipe for disaster against good opposing frontcourts.
Savvy Coaching Moves by Cronin - Mick Cronin went to his bench early in this one. Following an uninspiring run of play by the starters, Cronin pulled Jaquez and Riley, putting in Jaylen Clark and Hill. A few seconds later, Tyger Campbell was pulled after a turnover and replaced by David Singleton. The move sent a message about the lackadaisical play, and seemed to work, as those players would come back a bit later looking more focused. Credit also to Clark who provided some key early energy. I’d have liked to see him play more in this game, but he seems to be getting acclimated to the college game.
UCLA next plays on Tuesday, when they play their rescheduled game against Long Beach State.