UCLA Plays Terribly, Still Grinds Out Win Over Washington, 81-76
The Bruins escaped from the Huskies to remain atop the Pac-12.
Not all wins are created equal.
Two days after coming off their best win of the season, the UCLA Bruins showed up to Pauley Pavilion and put up an absolute stinker against the Washington Huskies, playing just well enough down the stretch to carve out an 81-76 victory. Considering UCLA came into the game atop the conference while Washington is on pace to put up one of the worst seasons in program history, the only real positive that can be taken is that the Bruins did not ultimately lose. Small comfort that is.
More than anything else, this really felt like a game that hinged on the effort of UCLA. Or rather, the lack of effort. The Bruins did not seem to care all that much about the game happening in front of them, with a mix of poor ball movement and a defensive effort that can best be described as lackadaisical. Washington is not a good shooting team, but UCLA could not be bothered to play much in the way of defense throughout this game, allowing Washington to finish the game shooting 51.7% from the field. The three-point defense, which has been a sore point of late, was especially abysmal - Washington entered the game shooting 27.9% from distance, but was able to shoot 43.5% in this game thanks to a bevy of wide-open looks provided by the UCLA defense.
Maybe more distressing is the lack of killer instinct shown by UCLA in the second half. The Bruins played one of their best stretches of the game to open the half, cutting a 10-point deficit in less than four minutes while preventing the Huskies from scoring, and looked poised to completely run away with things in the second half. But that’s not what happened; instead, the Bruins continually let the Huskies back into the game and were even losing as late as the 3:15 mark of the second half. Once again, the effort was an issue, as every time UCLA seemed to be ready to pull away, they would take their foot off the gas pedal, and like clockwork, Washington would hit a few shots to get back into the game.
It does not help matters that UCLA got some horrible performances from a variety of players. Tyger Campbell, fresh off two impressive outings, was a nightmare for most of this one, missing a bevy of shots while being a defensive sieve (I don’t think it’s a coincidence he was the only Bruin to end with a negative +/-). Cody Riley really struggled on the offensive end, and his eight rebounds seem pretty empty considering many of them were offensive rebounds of his own missed layups. Throw in pedestrian performances from Johnny Juzang, Jake Kyman, and Jalen Hill, and it is honestly a wonder that UCLA came out of this game with a victory.
Credit should go to Washington for rising to the occasion and playing their best game of the season. A lot has been written about the perilous position Mike Hopkins has the Huskies program, but this was the kind of effort that would lead you to believe Washington should be playing much better. Joe mentioned in this game preview that this had all the makings of a classic trap game, so at least one person can feel good about themselves today.
At the end of the day, however, this game was less about what Washington did and more about what UCLA did not do. The effort on display in this game should be unacceptable, and the best hope is that it serves as a wake-up call for the program going forward.
Jules Bernard led the Bruins with 20 points and nine rebounds. Tyger Campbell led the team with five assists. Quade Green led the Huskies with 25 points.
Player of the Game: Jules Bernard - The lone exception to the effort problem for UCLA was Jules Bernard, which doesn’t feel that surprising. Bernard has clearly stepped his game up this season, and after two pedestrian games, he seemed poised to turn things around in this one. And that he did, leading the team in points and rebounds, while also running away with the team lead in analytics. Bernard was the only starter who seemed to care from the jump, which makes it good to see him rewarded.
Area of Concern: Three-point defense - Washington is not a good three-point shooting team, yet they were able to go 10-23 from distance, in part because UCLA routinely allowed open looks. I’ve mentioned in the past that Mick Cronin’s defensive scheme does tend to allow for looks from distance in an effort to defend the interior, but this was ridiculous even by those standards.
Shooters Still Struggling - Against Washington State, Johnny Juzang and Jake Kyman appeared to turn things around offensively. That rebound lasted all of one game. Juzang went 1-5 from the field and was seemingly hesitant to shoot the ball. Kyman was not much better, going 1-3 from the field. Juzang has some benefit as a solid defender, but if neither of these guys are taking or making shots with any sort of consistency, it’s hard to justify them playing many minutes.
UCLA heads on the road next, facing UC Berkeley on Thursday.