Tracking UCLA’s highlights on Wednesday night involved following the floppy hair.
It belonged to Tyger Campbell, the dreadlock-wearing point guard who was in the midst of almost everything the Bruins did well in their only exhibition game.
He threw a lob to Jalen Hill for a dunk, found Prince Ali for a three-pointer and made a bounce pass to Alex Olesinski for a layup. And that was just on his team’s first three baskets.
Campbell made coach Mick Cronin a winner in his debut inside Pauley Pavilion, the redshirt freshman carrying the Bruins to an 87-57 victory over Stanislaus State a week before their season opener.
Campbell finished with 14 points, 11 assists and two steals in 27 minutes in his long-awaited introduction to the home fans after sitting out last season because of torn knee ligaments.
“I’ve been itching to get back out there, and obviously tonight I just felt great out there,” said Campbell, who received a loud ovation from the crowd of 3,221 after departing the game shortly after throwing his fourth alley-oop pass, which Jaime Jaquez Jr. grabbed for a layup.
The Bruins got a scare midway through the second half when Ali hurt his right ankle and hobbled around for a few seconds while grimacing before motioning to the bench that he needed to come out. Cronin said Ali did not break the ankle, but he did not have any further information on the severity of the injury.
One of the first things Cronin mentioned was his team’s 44 deflections, calling it “a UCLA stat now” that he will closely track each game. He said teams that collect at least 40 deflections win 95% of those games.
“It’s the greatest single indicator of your defensive effort,” Cronin said, referring to a statistic that includes tipped passes, blocked shots and recovered loose balls.
UCLA’s offense hinged almost exclusively on Campbell in the early going. He was involved in his team’s first 11 points via assist or scoring (including two Jules Bernard free throws that came as a result of taking a pass from Campbell on a fast break).
The Bruins struggled to generate offense when Campbell went to the bench and fell behind by as many as as four points in the first half before running off 11 consecutive points to take control.
Campbell showed that he could do more than pass, tipping a Stanislaus State entry pass to himself for a steal and scoring on a variety of moves. He used a nifty ball fake to elude a defender before whirling for a short jumper, buried an open three-pointer and made a floater at the halftime buzzer that earned him a celebratory body bump with Hill.
Chris Smith, continuing to search for an identity after two inconsistent seasons, scored 13 points, grabbed nine rebounds and made nine deflections.
“I told him if I had his size and athleticism,” Cronin said of the 6-foot-9 guard, “my identity would be deflections, defense, blocked shots, rebounds. … He’s really trying to embrace that.”
Hill, Riley and Jaquez each added 11 points for the Bruins, who used 11 players even before Cronin emptied his bench in the final minutes against Stanislaus State, a Division II team from Turlock, Calif. Cronin said that would likely be his rotation once the season starts against Long Beach State on Nov. 6 at home.
“Everybody that subs in,” Smith said, “is just as good or even better than the starters.”