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UCLA needs three overtimes to escape with a victory over Pepperdine

UCLA guard Chris Smith dribbles during the second half against Pepperdine on Nov. 27, 2020, in San Diego.
UCLA guard Chris Smith had 26 points and 12 rebounds in the Bruins’ 107-98 triple-overtime win over Pepperdine on Friday in San Diego.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Tyger Campbell hunched over near midcourt in the final seconds, tugging on his shorts in a rare moment of rest. Jaime Jaquez Jr. walked over and slapped his teammate on the shoulder before they embraced in a weary hug.

After 55 minutes of game action, a slew of missed opportunities and several near-misses, they could finally exhale Friday afternoon at Viejas Arena.

UCLA had prevailed in its longest game in 35 years, the No. 22 Bruins holding off Pepperdine for a 107-98 victory in triple overtime that served as a strong rebuttal to their season-opening dud two days earlier.

UCLA opened the season flat in a 73-58 loss to San Diego State.

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Jaquez played all 55 minutes and Campbell wasn’t far behind, logging nearly 52 minutes, as the absence of forward Jalen Hill because of injury and the spotty availability of forward Cody Riley because of foul trouble forced UCLA to rely heavily on a five-guard lineup. Bruins guard Chris Smith also played 50 minutes as part of a seven-man rotation that coach Mick Cronin rode to his team’s first triumph of the season.

“I think Chris and Tyger are headed for the cold tub,” Cronin said after UCLA (1-1) completed its longest game since a four-overtime loss to USC in February 1985. “I’m going to join them and put my head in after dealing with that.”

The small lineup eventually worked to the Bruins’ advantage as they made a barrage of three-pointers in the third overtime. Campbell and Jules Bernard each made one before Smith added an old-fashioned three-point play after getting fouled on a putback and making the free throw to give the Bruins a 98-93 lead, providing the cushion they needed after having previously failed to put away the Waves (1-1).

Highlights from UCLA’s 107-98 victory over Pepperdine in triple-overtime on Friday.

UCLA’s defense faltered late in regulation, giving up a six-point lead in the final three minutes, as part of a comedy of errors in which Jaquez airballed a potential go-ahead jumper and Smith heaved a full-court pass out of bounds from along the baseline, giving the ball to Pepperdine underneath its own basket.

Jaquez’s struggles at the free-throw line in the first and second overtimes also extended the game. Jaquez made one of two attempts with 25 seconds left in the first overtime and UCLA ahead by a point, allowing Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross (33 points) to tie the score on a floater with six seconds left.

UCLA holds more potential than it has in years, although the COVID-19 pandemic could derail the season. Coach Mick Cronin’s mantra? Stay positive, test negative.

Jaquez then made only one of four free throws in the final eight seconds of the second overtime but partially absolved himself by fighting for the rebound on his second miss. He was fouled going up for a putback and made one of two free throws to tie the score and force a third overtime.

UCLA made five of eight three-pointers in the overtimes after having made only five of 26 in regulation. Cronin said most of those late attempts from long range were wide open as a result of identifying strategic mismatches that allowed his team to play inside-out.

The Bruins also mostly fixed their defense after allowing Pepperdine to score with ease in the first half in what amounted a repeat of UCLA’s beatdown by San Diego State on Wednesday. All of the Bruins’ five steals and three blocks against the Waves came after halftime.

It helped that Smith made what felt like his season debut after going scoreless in the second half against San Diego State. Against Pepperdine, Smith scored 17 of his 26 points after halftime and he finished with a game-high 12 rebounds.

“I just knew I had to be more assertive,” Smith said. “The stats that stick out to me tonight were my 12 rebounds because I had zero the other night.”

The Bruins played a second consecutive game without Hill (right knee tendinitis) and sophomore guard Johnny Juzang (stress reaction in his right foot). Cronin said Hill was probable to play against Long Beach State on Monday and there was “a chance” that Juzang could play after shedding his protective walking boot.

UCLA will need to beat a winless Arizona team on Saturday if the Bruins are going to start to impress anyone under Chip Kelly.

It felt like UCLA played most of the game without Riley given that he fouled out after collecting 13 points and three rebounds in 28 minutes, easily the fewest among UCLA’s starters.

The Bruins headed home tired but somewhat satisfied given the unusual circumstances. Cronin had scheduled these games because he wanted UCLA to be challenged early, to face two good local teams away from Pauley Pavilion in hopes of showing the ways it needed to improve.

The Bruins learned they have a long way to go but are willing to go a long way to get there.

“A lot of guys happy in the locker room,” Cronin said. “They fought out a win against a good team.”

Up next for UCLA

Monday vs. Long Beach State, 6:30 p.m., Pauley Pavilion, Pac-12 Network — This will be the opener for the Beach, which will be without three potential returning players. New Zealand native Max De Geest remains abroad because he returned home after the initial COVID-19 outbreak, and seniors Colin Slater and Drew Cobb opted out of the season over safety concerns.


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