Jaylen Clark’s career-high night leads No. 13 UCLA over Washington State
For the season’s first 3½ months, it was a conundrum erased by two concussions, stretches in and out of the lineup, an inability to practice enough to stay in optimal playing shape.
Now that Jaylen Clark has fully recovered from that difficult stretch, he’s back to confronting UCLA coach Mick Cronin with perhaps his biggest late-season dilemma: How does he keep Clark out of his starting lineup?
Clark was the catalyst for everything his shorthanded team needed Thursday night during the No. 13 Bruins’ 76-56 victory over Washington State at Pauley Pavilion.
With point guard Tyger Campbell sidelined for one game because of an unspecified violation of team rules, Clark took his spot in the starting lineup and was a whirlwind of activity. The sophomore guard logged career highs in four categories with 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals while committing no turnovers on a night his team finished with a season-worst 16.
Cronin noted that Clark also made seven of 11 shots and tallied 12 deflections.
“So in my book,” Cronin said, “he had a triple-double.”
UCLA must play six games in 12 days to make up for COVID delays. Coach Mick Cronin says the schedule is all about profits and players should be paid.
Clark quickly announced his presence with a steal in the backcourt for a layup and followed another steal with a three-pointer as the Bruins (18-5, 10-4 Pac-12) continually hounded the Cougars (14-11, 7-7) with a full-court press.
Clark drove everything his team did early, notching eight points, three assists, two steals and two rebounds in his first eight minutes. After Clark took a bounce pass from Jaime Jaquez Jr. for a layup, he had a career-high 12 points and there were still more than seven minutes to play in the first half.
“I feel like I had a great week of practice,” Clark said. “This season, in general, I’ve had a lot of head injuries and concussions that kept me going in and going out, going in and going out. So I’m finally finding the stride I had in the offseason.”
It was a welcome infusion of productivity for a shorthanded team.
On a night he appeared on the cover of the game program, Campbell warmed up with his teammates, drained a long three-pointer about 10 minutes before tipoff and jogged into the tunnel leading toward the locker room. That was the extent of his basketball activities.
“I love him dearly,” Cronin said of Campbell, “but if you have rules and you don’t enforce them, you don’t have rules, it’s pretty simple.”
As the Bruins gathered for a pregame huddle, Campbell delivered a brief speech.
“He was just telling us ‘We gotta get the win tonight,’” Clark said. “We know our situation in the Pac-12, we’re trying to still win the Pac-12. So we can’t come out and play around with them.”
With Campbell out, Jules Bernard took over primary ballhandling duties and it didn’t go well in the opening minutes. His first pass was nearly stolen before getting knocked out of bounds. Shortly thereafter, he had a pass stolen in the backcourt and was benched in favor of David Singleton.
Turnovers were a troublesome theme for the Bruins.
They had nine by halftime, matching their season average for a game, and were struggling just to stay ahead of the Cougars early in the second half after Johnny Juzang flung a cross-court pass out of bounds.
But the murmurs of unease quickly turned into sustained cheers during a 15-1 run that erased any lingering doubt about the outcome. Juzang sparked the run with four points and finished with 19 in a foul-plagued performance in which he played only 19 minutes.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin said lineup changes may be needed to get Bruins back to playing the defense that preceded three losses in the last four games.
As promised, Cronin changed his team’s starting lineup to revive its sagging defense, going with center Myles Johnson in place of Cody Riley. Both players responded, Johnson coming up with two blocks and two steals and Riley scoring nine points, including a highlight sequence in which he followed a steal with a dunk in which he was fouled.
“We’re kind of starting over,” Cronin said. “We’re going to play hard enough to win, we’re going to do what we’re told.”
For Clark, that might mean running out with the starters from now on.
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