A new UCLA hero emerges almost every night. The Bruins just never know who it will be
The Pac-12 Conference will name its latest player and freshman of the week on Monday, categories in which its only unbeaten team in conference play is likely to be shut out once more.
At 7-0, UCLA remains alone atop the conference standings. The Bruins also hold the distinction of being the only Pac-12 team with a winning record in conference games not to have had a player or freshman of the week.
Junior guard Jules Bernard would seem to be worthy of the former award based on his 20-point, nine-rebound performance against Washington on Saturday had it not followed a six-point, one-rebound clunker two days earlier against Washington State.
Sophomore guard Johnny Juzang had starred against the Cougars with a career-high 17 points before disappearing against the Huskies, making one of five shots on the way to three points while also playing lackluster defense.
UCLA came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Washington and is off to its best start in conference play since the 1993-94 season.
It’s been that way all season for UCLA, a different protagonist emerging almost every game. If somebody made a movie poster to illustrate the 2020-21 Bruins, it would feature an ensemble cast 10 deep instead of a few leading men.
Five players average double figures in scoring even after taking away senior guard Chris Smith, who was lost for the season this month with a torn knee ligament.
“We take pride in sharing the ball,” sophomore guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. said, “and getting other guys open.”
Nobody has led the team in scoring in back-to-back games since Jaquez did it against San Diego and Marquette more than a month ago. Jaquez leads the Bruins with 13.2 points per game but is probably not a threat to leave for NBA riches after this season, like his teammates.
“We don’t have the first pick in the draft running around on our team,” coach Mick Cronin said after his team slogged its way to an 81-76 come-from-behind victory over Washington on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion. “We don’t overwhelm people with athleticism. So everybody on our team has got to contribute.”
Highlights from UCLA’s 81-76 win over Washington on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.
Cronin identified sophomore point guard Tyger Campbell as the player most essential to his team’s success, pointing out that his late baskets in a one-on-one battle with Washington’s Quade Green nudged the Bruins to their sixth consecutive win.
“We’re not a good team,” Cronin said, “unless he’s playing well.”
Campbell had struggled before that stretch, leaving a void that Bernard and forward Cody Riley filled by combining for 27 points in the second half. The Bruins also got three three-pointers off the bench from junior guard David Singleton, a putback from sophomore guard Jake Kyman and a last-minute defensive stop from freshman guard Jaylen Clark.
Cronin never knows who is going to step up at the end of taut games, which means neither does his coaching counterpart on the other team.
“It makes it tough for teams to sort of scout,” Bernard said, “because we have weapons all over the floor.”
In his second season at UCLA, coach Mick Cronin is proving that the Bruins can again be relevant on the national scene.
The team-oriented approach won praise from FS1 analyst Steve Lavin, the former UCLA coach who said after the Bruins’ 30-point rout of Washington State that they belonged in discussions about national championship contenders.
“Admittedly I’m a bit biased,” Lavin tweeted, “but Bruins have now won 13 of 14 Pac-12 regular season games. … Cohesive group has improved all facets of play from a year ago & capable of a 17-3 record in PAC!”
For the time being, UCLA (11-2 overall) may have to settle for moving back into the national rankings when the next Associated Press poll comes out. The Bruins were ranked No. 21 in the coaches poll last week while being unranked by AP.
As for a Pac-12 player or freshman of the week? The Bruins will pass. That’s what unselfish teams do.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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