UCLA Plays Ugly, Wins in OT Over Arizona State, 81-75
This was an absolute clunker of a game.
How does one recap an unwatchable game?
There’s the clinical way to do so. To wit: the UCLA Bruins went into Tempe and faced an Arizona State squad that was missing four key players, and emerged with an 81-75 overtime victory. UCLA struggled at taking care of the ball, had some puzzling defensive rotations, and generally did not play with anywhere near the sort of effort that winning truly requires, but sometimes you get lucky and your opponent doesn’t have Remy Martin available to take over.
Then there’s what my eyes are screaming at me to say: good lord UCLA is in some trouble.
It is important to note how hard it is to win when you are clearly not at your best, and the Bruins did not play anywhere close to what their best is. And credit definitely needs to be given to a game Arizona State squad, who were more than ready to take on the challenge of being competitive despite having no depth for this one. Alonzo Verge Jr. continued his streak of always playing great against the Bruins, and Josh Christopher showed why he is a potential lottery pick. The Sun Devils were extremely aggressive on defense, forcing UCLA into a season-high 18 turnovers and grabbing 10 steals. UCLA came into this game with an extremely efficient offense per Kenpom, yet they never truly had an answer for how Arizona State approached this game.
But Arizona State’s play can only tell so much of the story, and equally important here is how miserable UCLA was. Jaime Jaquez was a non-factor in so many aspects of this game, putting up a pedestrian eight points and five rebounds. Jalen Hill, who has been the bedrock of this team since returning from injury, put up an absolute clunker of a game where he struggled on defense and could not find a way to consistently bully an undersized Arizona State squad. For as much as we have lauded his defensive skills this season, this game was a brutal reminder of how far behind his offensive game is, and how far he needs to go to truly become an NBA prospect.
A special shoutout should go to Tyger Campbell, who I have to assume is only able to remain on the court because he is the only Bruin Mick Cronin trusts to run the offense. Campbell was abysmal in this one, only scoring eight points on 3-13 shooting while only putting up five assists compared to four turnovers. It should be impossible for a player to play 43 minutes and put up a 0 EFF and a negative game score, but Campbell somehow managed it! Mick Cronin has made some puzzling rotation choices this season, but Campbell’s ability to avoid the bench despite his detrimental play is the most puzzling of all.
Thankfully, the Bruins did have two players who decided to show up for this game in Cody Riley and David Singleton. Riley was a force in this game, putting up a career-high 22 points on 8-11 shooting while also hitting six of his eight free-throw attempts. More impressively, Riley had far and away the best defensive rating of any Bruin on the court, with Jules Bernard being the only other Bruin to post under 100. Riley had a double-double with 13 rebounds and even chipped in two blocks on the night. As for David Singleton, you have to give him credit for rising to the challenge when the team needed him to. Singleton has not played over 10 minutes in a game since December 9th, when the Bruins beat San Diego; tonight, he played 30 minutes and put up 14 points on an efficient 5-7 from the floor (4-6 from three). Mick Cronin showed more willingness to sit Johnny Juzang when he was struggling (Juzang only played 22 minutes but played much better late) and Singleton was the willing recipient of those minutes.
Credit to UCLA for gutting out a victory when they weren’t playing at their best. But there is a clear need for this team to regroup and figure some things out in a hurry.
Cody Riley led UCLA with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Tyger Campbell led the team with five assists. Alonzo Verge Jr. led the Sun Devils with 25 points.
Player of the Game: Cody Riley - Career-high in points, led the team in rebounds, and was the Bruins best defender? Yeah, it has to go to Riley for this game. Once the game got late and Riley realized he could score at will against an undersized and inexperienced Sun Devils frontcourt, this game essentially ended.
Area of Concern: Effort - It was hard not to watch this game without coming away with the impression that UCLA did not want to be playing basketball on Thursday. Defensive rotations were late, the offense was sloppy and careless, and no one really seemed to care when things weren’t going their way. Compared to how animated (sometimes in an over-the-top fashion) Arizona State was, and you really got the sense that one team cared about the end result while the other was just going through the motions. That’s not acceptable, and that falls on the coaching staff for letting that level of malaise persist all game long.
Shout out to the Pac-12 reffing for staying consistent! - And by consistent, I clearly mean consistently awful. UCLA benefitted from a ton of calls late but that only served to make this game absolutely unwatchable. I know it’s Walton’s shtick to question foul calls, but when he comes across as the voice of reason, you know you have messed up as a ref crew. Speaking of Walton….
BONUS FOURTH TAKEAWAY: Thank you Walton and Pasch - The lone redeeming quality to this game was having these two back in the commentary saddle. Pasch is such a good straight man to the manic energy that is Walton, and their commentary manages to get across just how much they enjoy talking to each other while still calling the game. Credit to these two for doing what they could to salvage the poor action that was on the court.
The Bruins next play on Saturday when they travel to Tuscon to face their basketball rivals in Arizona.