Advertisement
Share

No. 2 UCLA routs Cal State Bakersfield in opener, Cody Riley departs with knee injury

UCLA guard Johnny Juzang drives past Cal State Bakersfield guard Kaleb Higgins.
UCLA guard Johnny Juzang drives past Cal State Bakersfield guard Kaleb Higgins during the second half Tuesday at Pauley Pavilion.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

The buzz filling the long-empty arena disappeared in an agonizing instant.

Cody Riley fell to the court amid a scramble for the ball midway through the first half, the UCLA redshirt senior forward grabbing his left knee in agony. Fans inside Pauley Pavilion let out a collective groan and went silent.

A trainer helped Riley stretch his knee before the Bruins big man walked slowly off the court while fans chanted his name. Whatever happened next during second-ranked UCLA’s season opener against Cal State Bakersfield on Tuesday night seemed secondary to assessing the status of the team’s rapidly thinning frontcourt.

Advertisement

Redshirt freshman forward Mac Etienne had already been lost — likely for the season — because of a suspected torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, the second ACL injury suffered by the Bruins after freshman guard Will McClendon went down in preseason workouts with the same issue.

As it commenced its most anticipated season in more than a decade, seven months after completing its run from the First Four to the Final Four, the last thing UCLA needed was another player going down with a serious knee injury. A team spokesperson announced shortly after Riley headed toward the locker room that he would not return during the team’s eventual 95-58 victory.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin fears Mac Etienne could be lost for the season with a torn knee ligament, an injury similar to the one sustained by Will McClendon.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin said afterward that he did not know the extent of the injury or how it occurred.

“He said it all happened so fast,” Cronin said of Riley, “he doesn’t even know what happened. I asked and he said, ‘I don’t know. Somebody ran me over, and that’s all I know.’ My thoughts are just praying for him and hopefully he’s OK.”

Riley’s departure left UCLA’s post play in the exclusive hands of graduate transfer Myles Johnson and redshirt junior Kenneth Nwuba. Johnson showed some good activity with five rebounds and two blocks and Nwuba threw down an alley-oop dunk and blocked two shots during an energetic stint off the bench.

Any extended absence for Riley would deprive the team of one of its hardest workers and most gutsy players. UCLA coach Mick Cronin had described Riley as “a warrior” for playing through the lingering pain of a serious ankle injury late last season.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin checks with forward Cody Riley after being injured.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin checks with forward Cody Riley (2) after Riley was injured during the first half against Cal State Bakersfield on Tuesday at Pauley Pavilion.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

The vibes in the Bruins’ first regular-season game in front of their home fans since Feb. 29, 2020, had been decidedly more upbeat before Riley went down.

The fun started about 20 minutes before tipoff, UCLA freshman Peyton Watson acknowledging the students’ roll call with a wave and a bounce pass that he threw to himself for a one-handed dunk.

Johnny Juzang, the team’s breakthrough star of the NCAA tournament, made the students call his name so many times they might have thought he was ignoring them before finally raising an arm into the air.

Johnson, a newcomer who recently admitted the pregame tradition caught him by surprise last week during an exhibition game, was ready this time, thrusting both of his massive arms into the air with a smile.

The Bruins were back, and they were ready to rock a crowd that included UCLA legend Jamaal Wilkes as well as former Bruin and current Laker Trevor Ariza.

Juzang and Jules Bernard led the Bruins with 19 points each and Jaime Jaquez Jr. added 14 points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal in a strong across-the-board effort.

“It was an amazing feeling,” Bernard said of playing before a crowd of 5,618 one season after UCLA fans were barred from home games because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Having the students and fans there, it just brought a lot of energy, and like all the other guys on the team, we’re just excited to finally get the season started.”

Bruins sophomore guard Jaylen Clark, who sat out the team’s exhibition game after experiencing concussion symptoms, showed he was just fine by notching 10 points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes. Among his highlights were the lob to Nwuba and a driving layup in which he was fouled while falling to the court, motioning with his hand that the basket counted.

The No. 20 Bruins have eight new players this year, but they’re keeping their old expectations for tournament success.

Cronin said Clark, who had also been dizzy after taking cold medicine on an empty stomach and hadn’t practiced in two weeks, announced at the shootaround that he had been cleared and was playing.

“He just can’t breathe,” Cronin said. “The guy’s unbelievable.”

Riley rejoined his teammates after halftime, sitting on the bench in a white shirt and blue pants, his outfit a reminder of a team’s fickle fortunes no matter how deep or experienced.

“Obviously when we saw him in pain it was tough to see and tough to take,” Bernard said. “The most important thing is his health, so we all checked in on him at halftime and after the game. Just knowing that he’s in good
spirits is the most important thing.”


Advertisement