Tyger Campbell provides boost to lead No. 5 UCLA over Colorado in Pac-12 opener
It seemed like old times for about an hour inside Pauley Pavilion, and not just because Bill Walton was wiggling his fingers at a courtside camera and Russell Westbrook was tossing T-shirts into the crowd.
The fun carried over to the court, UCLA’s Jaylen Clark driving for a vicious one-handed dunk that was reminiscent of a Westbrook move and Myles Johnson showing he could be a two-way force by finally unleashing some offense to go with his active defense.
But the fifth-ranked Bruins’ dominance and the parallels to yesteryear ended amid a role reversal early in the second half of their Pac-12 Conference opener Wednesday night, UCLA going cold while Colorado turned what was shaping up as a blowout into an uncomfortably close game.
When Colorado’s Jabari Walker made two free throws with 9½ minutes to go, the Buffaloes were down by only four points and the Bruins were on the way to missing eight consecutive shots. The unease inside the renovated arena was palpable.
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If UCLA wanted to assure itself of remaining unbeaten at home, it needed to find a way to end all the empty possessions and find some offense. The Bruins got the big plays they needed from the smallest player on the court, Tyger Campbell powering a push that lifted his team to a 73-61 victory that qualified more as a sigh of relief than any sort of proclamation of greatness.
The 5-foot-11 Campbell provided a driving layup, a three-pointer and a jumper to fuel an 11-3 run that significantly lowered the anxiety level for the Bruins (7-1, 1-0). Campbell added another three-pointer and finished with one of his strongest across-the-board showings, tallying 21 points to go with seven rebounds and five assists while receiving some encouragement from Westbrook in his courtside seat.
“He was just telling me to keep shooting and be aggressive,” said Campbell, who made eight of 16 shots and four of seven three-pointers. “It means a lot coming from him, because he’s such a great player and obviously the legacy he left here — all the Final Fours. It means a lot for him to even come back and just watch us play.”
The Bruins persevered without guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., their second-leading scorer who played only seven minutes after hitting his head on the court in the first half and being held out the rest of the game as a precautionary measure.
Johnson provided a pick-me-up with a season-high 12 points on five-for-six shooting and 10 rebounds as part of his first double-double as a Bruin. He was even more prolific on defense, continually deflecting passes and twice preventing the Buffaloes from inbounding the ball while relegating Colorado counterpart Evan Battey to a nonfactor.
One game after leading his team with a career-high 22 points in a victory over Stanford, Battey fouled out with four points and two rebounds in only 15 minutes while being overwhelmed by Johnson.
“He’s got 12 points, 10 rebounds and 14 deflections, so he’s got a UCLA triple-double,” said UCLA coach Mick Cronin, who has continually challenged Johnson to be more assertive. “What I told him was, that’s what I want to see every game.”
There was major concern midway through the first half when Jaquez fell hard underneath the basket after getting fouled, his head hitting the hardwood with a thud that reverberated throughout the arena. Jaquez eventually rose with a hand from Cronin and a trainer before heading toward the locker room.
It was the second consecutive game in which Jaquez was forced out after having absorbed a stray elbow from Johnson on Saturday that required five stitches.
Cronin said doctors cleared Jaquez to return after assistant coach Michael Lewis watched him take some warmup shots at halftime, but Cronin decided to hold him out in a protective move.
“I’m always going to err on the side of safety when it comes to my players,” Cronin said, “so I just didn’t feel comfortable about it.”
UCLA held a 39-23 halftime lead after what was easily Johnson’s best half as a Bruin. He backed down Battey on the game’s opening possession before commencing a spin move that led to a jump hook. It wasn’t long before Johnson was going at Battey again with another move that drew a foul and sent Johnson to the free-throw line, the big man fulfilling his coach’s demands.
“Coach Cronin is always pushing me—you’re in the paint, it’s your time,” Johnson said. “I’m definitely thankful he pushes me.”
UCLA senior walk-on Russell Stong won’t be playing in the NBA but he’s arguably the most beloved player on one of America’s most popular teams.
Battey struggled mightily, airballing a three-pointer and coming out of the game with only two points and two turnovers in the first half after picking up his second foul. Walker led the Buffaloes (6-2, 1-1) with 22 points.
Fans who chanted “We want Westbrook!” were rewarded in the first half when the former Bruin and current Laker took a ball from onetime UCLA hero Tyus Edney as the honorary captainand received a standing ovation. Westbrook had an excellent view of Clark’s signature dunk that the Bruins followed with a Jules Bernard three-pointer that gave them a 33-16 lead.
Things took a dramatic turn before UCLA won comfortably enough that the students unveiled a “We want Russell!” chant in the final minute, alluding to walk-on Russell Stong, who did not get off the bench to satisfy the demand.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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