Jaylen Clark helps revitalize No. 3 UCLA in bounce-back win over Oregon State
It was a given that only a few fans would be permitted inside Pauley Pavilion on Saturday night, UCLA continuing to double down on safety even as almost every other team across the country played in packed arenas.
The question, then, became who would show up for the third-ranked Bruins two nights after an almost universal no-show.
Would Jaime Jaquez Jr. shake off perhaps the most lethargic performance of his career? Could Jules Bernard break out of an extended shooting slump? Might Johnny Juzang sustain smart play? Was Cody Riley going to grab more than one rebound?
UCLA coach Mick Cronin vowed to fix the uncharacteristic defensive problems on display Thursday night during the Bruins’ loss to Oregon.
The first answer came before tipoff, and it wasn’t one that would help UCLA’s bid to quickly rebound from its surprising home loss to Oregon. While his teammates warmed up, Jaquez remained seated on the bench in blue sweats because of a bothersome left ankle.
Jaquez rose from his seat to linger on the periphery of a few team huddles and clapped in encouragement, but his absence against Oregon State took more than his averages of 13.3 points and 5.7 rebounds off the board. It deprived the Bruins of their most fiery player.
Fortunately for UCLA, it found a capable replacement.
In his first career start, sophomore guard Jaylen Clark made a compelling case for more playing time during the Bruins’ 81-65 victory over the Beavers. Clark contributed his usual active defense and logged all of his career-high 11 points by halftime, also finishing with four rebounds, two assists and a steal.
“Jaime better hurry back or he’s in trouble,” Cronin cracked after explaining that Jaquez woke up with a swollen left ankle. The swelling subsided by game time, but Cronin held his second-leading scorer out as a precaution to protect him with so many more games to play.
Clark filled in for more than Jaquez. Giving up several inches to his counterpart at 6 feet 5, Clark even played some center as part of a small-ball lineup that helped UCLA (11-2, 3-1 Pac-12) get some separation before halftime. Clark had made all five of his shots to that point, helping his team shoot a staggering 69.6% from the field in the first half.
“People know I can defend the ball,” Clark said. “Today, I was put in spots where I can score where I normally wouldn’t have, so I just tried to make the most out of it.”
Juzang added some spirited defense in the first few minutes after halftime, taking one of his team’s four charges and stealing an inbounds pass before feeding Tyger Campbell for a layup. On the Bruins’ next possession, Juzang buried a three-pointer on the way to scoring 19 of his team-high 24 points in the second half.
There was also a bounce-back effort from Jules Bernard, whose 16 points included a beautiful fast-break layup in which Juzang passed to Clark before Clark found an open Bernard for an easy basket. Cronin lauded his team for winning easily on a night it made only two three-pointers, the breather courtesy of shooting 61.7% overall and outscoring the Beavers (3-13, 1-5) by 18 points in the paint and by nine points off turnovers.
An energized Campbell had 13 points, three assists and four of his team’s nine steals. Riley had nine points and three rebounds, but Cronin noted he wanted more rebounding from the forward, who has grabbed only 11 in four games since his return from a knee injury.
Clark had already earned more playing time by making two steals in the final 33 seconds of regulation Thursday to force overtime against Oregon before oddly going to the bench except for the final nine seconds of the extra period. His 32 minutes against the Beavers easily eclipsed his previous high of 24.
“I told him he’s got to get in better shape,” Cronin said, alluding to Clark’s being on the verge of a bigger role.
Freshman guard Peyton Watson also continued his recent emergence with four points, five rebounds, two blocks and a steal, modest statistics that did not adequately capture his impact.
Johnny Juzang misses a three-point attempt in last seconds of overtime as UCLA struggles on defense in an 84-81 loss to Oregon.
“Stats mean nothing to me,” Cronin said. “I look at Peyton’s floor game defensively, blocked shots, rebounding activity, his attitude — he and Jaylen continue to improve; it’s huge for us.”
Jarod Lucas and Dashawn Davis each scored 12 points for the Beavers, whose bid to notch their first road win over a top-five team faded when they shot 38.7% in the second half after making half of their baskets in the first.
Two nights after ripping his players as “arrogant without cause,” Cronin was back to making jokes and lavishing praise on his team. The Bruins resembled themselves once again.
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