UCLA coach Mick Cronin, recently assessing a team stocked mostly with freshmen and sophomores, noted that the Bruins could set a record for the number of players who set career highs in points.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. is starting to do it on an almost nightly basis.
His rise to prominence continued during UCLA’s 93-64 victory over San Jose State on Sunday evening at Pauley Pavilion, the freshman guard compiling another strong across-the-board showing in only his second start as the Bruins set their own season high for points scored.
Jaquez finished with a career-high 18 points on seven-for-10 shooting to go with four assists, three rebounds, three steals and no turnovers in only 20 minutes. More impressive, perhaps, was that the Bruins outscored the Spartans by 40 points when Jaquez was on the court.
“He doesn’t turn the ball over, he doesn’t take bad shots, he doesn’t get beat on defense, he’s engaged mentally,” Cronin said of a player who had set his previous career high on Tuesday with 17 points against Chaminade. “He’s a great building block for us, a tremendous building block for our program.”
Jaquez is among 11 UCLA players who have set or tied their career highs in points this season, thanks largely to an influx of newcomers and other players moving into bigger roles.
“It’s just a process of getting better every single day,” said Jaquez, adding that he was more comfortable after playing in nationally televised games in the Maui Invitational last week.
Jaquez helped turn the game into a rout only a few minutes after tipoff when he generated back-to-back steals and breakaway dunks to give the Bruins (6-3) their first double-digit lead.
UCLA forward Jalen Hill, who put on his own impressive display with 18 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, didn’t wait for a reporter’s question about Jaquez’s impact to end before interjecting.
“Great,” said Hill, who went on to praise Jaquez’s effort and energy while not trying to do more than was asked of him. “It’s a great sight because he’s a freshman. When I was a freshman I wasn’t doing stuff like that and it’s just cool to see him do this.”
UCLA was in more of a sharing mood four days after tabulating only five assists during a loss to Michigan State. The Bruins logged assists on each of their first eight baskets that were scored in their halfcourt offense, though Cronin noted that the Spartans’ zone defense contributed by forcing his team to move the ball. UCLA finished with 21 assists on its 34 baskets.
“That’s what great teams do,” Hill said. “It’s more fun that way, just sharing the ball.”
UCLA started to get sloppy toward the latter portion of a first half in which it committed eight of its 14 turnovers. Shareef O’Neal and Hill each traveled and Tyger Campbell and Chris Smith each threw bad passes that were stolen.
“If we could stop traveling and throwing it to the other team, our offense is pretty good,” Cronin said after his team shot 52.3%.
Zach Chappell scored 12 points for San Jose State (3-5), which suffered its third loss to a Pac-12 Conference team after falling to Arizona by 48 points and to Oregon State by 35.
UCLA delivered a comparable shellacking to its conference counterparts, though Smith (14 points) noted that the Bruins remained “really far” away from where they wanted to be defensively.
“We’re not even playing the defense that he’s known for at the moment,” Smith said of his coach. “The biggest thing is talking on defense, you know, [and] we don’t do much of that at the moment. We just gotta get in a groove, get more comfortable and we gotta talk more and then I think we’ll start progressing towards what he wants.”
UCLA led by as many as 33 points, allowing it to get an extended look at its reserves over the final minutes. O’Neal finished with a career-high eight points as well as five rebounds. Those statistics weren’t what most pleased his coach.
“His defensive rotations are getting better [and] that’s going to be big for us going forward,” Cronin said. “We’ve got to become a team that can stop somebody because you’re not going to get 93 every day. It would be nice to get 93 every day; I’d be all for it.”