UCLA Has Best Game in Weeks, Defeats Utah 76-61
Are the Bruins rounding into form? Maybe!
So that’s what a cruise of a game feels like.
The UCLA Bruins began the most important road trip of the season by putting on a clinic on offense, combining it with solid defensive effort to run away from the Utah Utes by the final score of 76-61. Near the end of the first half, the Bruins seemed to realize that they should be able to run away from the Utes, and for the first time in weeks, they did exactly that.
It’s hard to overstate just how good the UCLA offense was in this one. Utah has a solid-enough defense, but there was nothing they could really do to slow down the Bruin offense once it got going. Four Bruins ended the game in double figures, led by Jules Bernard’s 19 points, and overall the Bruins shot 55.4% from the field, including a blazing 11-19 from three-point range. That is a level of performance that the Bruins might not be able to replicate each night, but the biggest positive is that they did so while playing within the flow of their offense. This wasn’t a game where the Bruins had one player blow up offensively; the Bruins simply made the open shots that their offense has generated all season. If the Bruins can continue this stretch of good shooting going forward, they’ll be able to hang with anyone in the conference.
The defense was…fine. It’s hard to get too mad, especially considering how it went in the first half, but the Bruins definitely were not amazing overall. Really you could single out a few players for the poor showing defensively, but at the end of the day not a single Bruin posted a defensive rating below a 120. You can get away with that kind of performance against Utah, but it will be harder to do so in these final three games.
If there’s anything I really want to focus on, it’s that first half (blowouts are great for feeling good but bad for analysis) where the Bruins found themselves in a dog fight for most of the half. A lot of this had to do with poor play from a few key players, chief among them Tyger Campbell. Campbell has not had a great stretch of play over the past month, which makes some level of sense. Teams have keyed in on him defensively, while his offense has become more forced. It’s put Coach Cronin in a rough position, because he really cannot afford to play Campbell defensively, but even his poor offensive play is still miles better than anything else the Bruins currently have at the point guard position. I have to assume Cronin knows this, as he ended up benching Tyger Campbell multiple times in the first half after poor play, and Campbell responded in the second half, so the hope is that this continues on Saturday.
With all that said, it’s good to have momentum going into Saturday. The worst thing that could have happened is for the Bruins to lose a trap game, and that didn’t happen. The Bruins took care of business, and that’s all you can ask for at this point of the season.
Jules Bernard led the Bruins with 19 points. Johnny Juzang led the team with eight rebounds, while Tyger Campbell led the team with five assists. Branden Carlson led the Utes with 17 points.
Player of the Game: Cody Riley - In the post-game, Coach Mick Cronin mentioned that Riley was fully healthy for the first time in weeks, and it showed in this one. Riley was a force while on the court, scoring 15 points on 7-9 shooting while showing a spring in his step on the defensive end. With Jalen Hill likely out for the rest of the year, the Bruins need Riley to have impact games on the interior, and he delivered in spades in this game.
….and Jules Bernard - Bernard was fantastic in this one, leading the team in points while shooting an exceptional 7-10 from the field, including 4-6 from three-point range. Johnny Juzang’s run of exceptional play has opened the door for other guys to step up and provide supporting scoring, and perhaps no one is more suited to do so than Bernard, who has seemingly refound his success from earlier in the season.
Everything goes according to plan - I delayed sending this article out because I was watching the end of the Southern Cal/Colorado game. And with good reason - with Colorado’s victory, the Bruins have reclaimed the top spot in the conference title race with three games to play. Things also set up well for the Bruins going forward: despite winning comfortably, the Buffaloes had to expend a ton of energy to put away the Trojans, while Southern Cal has to regroup against a Utah squad that has shown the ability to beat good teams. Then next week suddenly looks manageable for the Bruins, with Oregon looking to be worse than expected. If the Bruins can win their next two games and Southern Cal drops one, they could clinch first in the conference before playing the Trojans. That would likely be an ideal scenario.
The Bruins will now head to part two of the Rocky Mountain Road Trip, as they go take on Colorado on Saturday.