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UCLA Sleepwalks, Still Beats Long Beach State 100-79
The Bruins were in a dogfight but ultimately won handily.
From the pregame:
It would not be surprising to see this team tone down the intensity following what had to be a draining game against Villanova. Long Beach State is certainly a scrappy opponent, but this is a game UCLA should win handily. So, the focus should be more on the intensity on display. If this is a 10-point game with five minutes remaining, I would not be shocked in the slightest, but I also think UCLA can end this game much earlier if they’re dialed in.
This was not a hard game to see coming, and yet it did cause a ton of worry from large swathes of the UCLA fanbase. I call it Post Alford Stress Disorder.
In any case, the UCLA Bruins were up by three at the half and ultimately would pull away for a 100-79 victory over the Long Beach State 49ers (I know they’re the Beach, but it just sounds wrong to type it). That’s really all you need to know about this game before comfortably moving on. UCLA was the more-talented team, Long Beach State had a chip on its shoulder, and it played out exactly like you would expect for 30 minutes before the Bruins ultimately pulled away. Nothing here should surprise you.
If you want something resembling in-depth analysis, here it is: UCLA’s defense is a work-in-progress and is maybe trying too hard to integrate Myles Johnson in on defense. This is the second game in a row where Johnson has had a bad matchup, with Villanova aggressively targeting him on the perimeter in pick-and-roll and Long Beach State’s tempo taking him out of the play entirely. Johnson is a rim protector, but in a style more befitting the plodding nature of Big Ten basketball. Johnson will be extremely useful during the tournament and Pac-12 play when the Bruins face teams that want to go to the interior more, but he’s more out-of-sorts against smaller, faster teams that want to play on the perimeter. This is where the absence of Cody Riley really plays a factor because Riley is more equipped to handle those faster defenders. It also helps that Riley is an offensive force on the interior whereas Johnson is someone that really shouldn’t see a pass unless the team gets desperate.
The absence of Riley and Johnson’s poor matchup has necessitated the return of Jaylen Clark at the five, and Clark has proven more than capable of filling that role. Clark remains a tenacious rebounder (he led the team with six) and excellent defender while becoming a solid offensive player in his own right. He’s not a knock-down shooter by any stretch but he has a nice touch on the interior and gets a ton of dirty points.
Jules Bernard was a land of contrasts in this game. He was clearly UCLA’s best offensive player, both according to the eye test and analytics. Bernard seemed to be everywhere and hit a ton of big shots, and statistically, his Efficiency, Game Score, and Points Produced were all team-highs. But on the flip side, his defense really seemed to be a problem, as Long Beach State seemed to target him repeatedly with their faster guards. His defensive rating of 118 was the worst for any player that saw a significant number of minutes. Bernard really dedicated himself to the defensive side last season, so hopefully these past few games have been just a blip and he’ll return to form soon.
Other than that, not much else to talk about. UCLA just had way more talent than Long Beach State, and unlike during the Alford Era, Mick Cronin knows how to push the right buttons to turn these types of games into large margins of victory. That’s not the worst thing in the world, even if it feels mildly concerning in the moment.
Johnny Juzang led the Bruins with 25 points. Jules Bernard led the team with seven assists, while Jaylen Clark led the team with six rebounds. Joel Murray led Long Beach State with 30 points.
Player of the Game: Jules Bernard - Despite his defensive issues, Bernard really was a tour de force on offense, and that’s clearly where UCLA is stronger at this point. Bernard had a stat line of 22/5/7, which is all the more impressive when you consider he had a rather quiet outing until the 5:10 mark of the first half. Juzang gets a lot of the accolades when it comes to scoring, and Jaime Jaquez is often hailed as UCLA’s best all-around player, but Bernard’s contributions cannot be overstated.
Tip of the Cap to Joel Murray and Colin Slater - These two combined for 57 of Long Beach State’s 79 points, a ridiculous split from two guys who were hitting every shot under the sun. Slater literally did not miss until the 12:29 mark of the second half, which is ridiculous. These two guys didn’t wilt under the bright Pauley lights, and were able to make this game uncomfortable for far longer than many assumed it would be.
Bill Walton Back! - I don’t have much here, but I missed having Walton on the call for these games, especially compared to the usual bottles of Ambien the Pac-12 puts on normally. I will listen to Bill wax poetic about the #1 public university every day of the week.
The Bruins only get a day off before returning to action, taking on North Florida on Wednesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 PM.