His teammates were waiting for him behind a closed door, crowding around the entrance clutching water bottles.
The moment Jake Kyman stepped into the locker room, his baptism began.
“It was amazing,” Kyman said several minutes later, the UCLA freshman guard’s hair still drenched long after completing postgame interviews and a round of hugs with assistant coaches and athletic director Dan Guerrero. “I came in and everyone was just splashing water on me and I was just so happy about it.”
The spontaneous shower was prompted by a most unlikely deluge of three-pointers from the Bruin who went from bit player to starring role in his team’s 66-64 upset of Washington on Thursday night at Alaska Airlines Arena in its Pac-12 Conference opener.
Kyman made seven three-pointers, including one that nudged UCLA into a two-point lead with eight seconds left, as the Bruins (8-6 overall) completed a stunning reversal of fortunes only five days after a home loss to Cal State Fullerton prompted coach Mick Cronin to apologize for his team’s defensive effort and question his players’ humility.
The Bruins got a needed stop in the final seconds after Jules Bernard came off the bench to deflect a ball that ended up in teammate Chris Smith’s hands amid a pile of bodies on the floor. Smith had no idea that UCLA owned possession with 1.1 seconds left until he heard the public-address announcer say it was the Bruins’ ball.
“Coach said the game was going to come down to a loose ball,” Smith said, “and he was right.”
Smith had to only inbound the ball to teammate Prince Ali before the Bruins could commence celebrating the end of their three-game losing streak after beating the defending Pac-12 champions on their home court before a raucous crowd of 9,027.
Kyman finished with a career-high 21 points, exceeding his previous season total of 18. He made seven of 12 shots, all from three-point range, after having previously made only four of 13 three-pointers this season.
Part of Jake’s plan was he might get in as a freshman, he might not, [so] defer to other people,” Cronin said after his first victory at UCLA over a major-conference team. “I told him we don’t have that luxury. We have to have somebody shoot the ball in the basket.”
Kyman continually shot without hesitation, making five of his three-pointers in the second half. Smith added 17 points on eight-for-13 shooting to go with 12 rebounds for the Bruins, who countered Washington’s 2-3 zone with a four-guard lineup that improved their spacing and ball movement.
UCLA also withstood Washington freshman forward Isaiah Stewart’s 24 points and 11 rebounds as well as Nahziah Carter’s three-pointer with 24 seconds left that gave the Huskies (10-4) a 64-63 lead.
The Bruins showed poise and precision on their next possession, with Tyger Campbell eventually finding Kyman for his winning three-pointer.
“The guys kept trying to probe the zone, probe the zone,” Cronin said, “and we finally got to where we could get one more pass so he got a great look.”
Cronin had stripped the UCLA logo off players’ and coaches’ tank tops and shorts in practice this week since the loss to Cal State Fullerton, sending a message that the Bruins needed to earn the right to wear the school’s letters.
They found someone worthy in Kyman, whose mother, Michelle, won a national championship at UCLA in 1991 while playing for the women’s volleyball team.
Kyman was a zone buster early in the game after his two three-pointers off the bench gave UCLA a 21-16 lead the Bruins eventually extended to as many as 11 points. UCLA moved the ball with relative ease against the Huskies and put together perhaps its most tenacious defense of the season on the way to a 34-24 halftime lead.
“That last loss was embarrassing, but we have to really learn from this,” Kyman said. “We all had a pact in the locker room, we were all talking to each other, like this can’t happen anymore. It’s time for this to end, we have to figure something out and we really stuck to that.”