UCLA extends Pac-12 unbeaten streak with narrow victory over Cal
Jules Bernard noticed a teammate hovering with a water bottle in the locker room, intending to spray Bernard in celebration of his big basket on his 21st birthday.
It was there that Bernard made the Bruins’ final stop on a night their defense helped them prevail when their usually efficient offense abandoned them.
“I saw him lurking,” Bernard said of walk-on Russell Stong, “so I had to check him before he threw it.”
Living dangerously continued to work for the 24th-ranked Bruins, whose undefeated record in Pac-12 Conference play keeps being taken to the precipice before holding firm.
Guard Jules Bernard has developed into one of UCLA’s most important players during his junior season.
After trailing by four at the half, UCLA emerged unblemished once again Thursday night, Bernard’s three-pointer with two minutes left and some late defensive excellence helping the Bruins hold on for a 61-57 victory over California at Haas Pavilion.
Point guard Tyger Campbell, who shook off a sloppy first half to find Bernard on the shot that gave the Bruins a 59-55 lead, repeatedly pumped his first while walking off the court after UCLA (12-2 overall, 8-0 Pac-12) won its seventh consecutive game.
The Bruins hold the distinction of being the only unbeaten team in the Pac-12 and are off to their best start in conference play since they opened 9-0 in what was the Pac-10 during the 1982-83 season.
“Winners W-I-N,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “That’s how you spell fun.”
Cody Riley led the Bruins with 13 points, including three baskets over the final 6:25, and Bernard added 11 for the Bruins, including his three-pointer with 2:08 left.
The Bruins withstood a barrage of three-pointers from Cal (7-9, 2-7), which made 10 of 22 shots from beyond the arc but only three of 10 in the second half after UCLA started switching defenders on screens. Golden Bears forward Grant Anticevich, who scored 21 points, tied a UCLA opponent record by making all five of his three-pointers.
Almost upset last weekend by last-place Washington, UCLA committed 14 turnovers but got the stops it needed in the final minutes against Cal, which looked much crisper than the team that had lost to the Bruins by 20 in early December at Pauley Pavilion.
Cronin bolstered his defense by inserting forward Jalen Hill and guard Jaylen Clark in the final minutes, leading to a flurry of empty Cal possessions.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin talks about the Bruins’ 61-57 win over Cal on Thursday.
Along the way, UCLA improved to 7-0 this season in games decided by five points or fewer.
“We have ugly games like this and our defense helps us come out on top,” Bernard said. “I think that’s a sign of a great team; I think we can get to that status — great team — but we still have a lot of work to do on both sides, defensively and offensively.”
Campbell rebounded from a horrid first half in which he had three turnovers and zero assists in 12 foul-plagued minutes to log six assists and only one turnover in the second half.
“I know my dad in Cincinnati right now,” Cronin said, referring to Hep Cronin, a legendary high school coach, “I just hope that he’s not being rushed to the hospital with some of the turnovers we had.”
The Bruins avoided the same fate of the last UCLA team that won its first seven conference games before playing the Golden Bears in the Bay Area. It took a triple-double from Cal’s Jason Kidd to end UCLA’s perfect start in January 1994 at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, sending some of the crowd of 15,033 streaming onto the court.
Preparing for a season amid COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for UCLA’s gymnastics team. But the Bruins are training with joy and gratitude.
There was no chance of that Thursday in an area featuring only a few thousand cardboard cutouts of Cal luminaries, fans and their pets because of health restrictions related to the pandemic.
The din of the UCLA locker room was created by birthday wishes for Bernard on a memorable night.
“They did say happy birthday,” Bernard said of his teammates, “ so it was pretty nice.”
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