Tuesday, June 25, 2024

No. 9 UCLA beats Washington to snap 2-game skid

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LOS ANGELES — With the regular season nearing the stretch run, what the UCLA men’s basketball team hopes was the opening act of another lengthy win streak took place on Thursday night, as the Bruins started strong and held off Washington, 70-61, at Pauley Pavilion.

The Bruins (18-4 overall, 9-2 Pac-12) were coming off consecutive road losses to rivals Arizona and USC, two of the better teams in the conference. UCLA had won 14 consecutive games prior to those defeats.

Washington (13-11, 5-8 Pac-12) – which UCLA defeated, 74-49, in Seattle last month – did not provide the Bruins with nearly the same level of competition as the Wildcats and Trojans.

The win wasn’t entirely comfortable, though.

After a strong first half, UCLA’s offense faltered in the second half. Washington trimmed a 16-point halftime deficit to single digits, and it took a few defensive stops to seal the win while the Bruins were held scoreless themselves for the last three minutes.

Postgame, players and coaches highlighted the stagnant second half, a sign of a top-10 team looking to shore up every last imperfection with the postseason approaching.

“Sometimes, we get a little bit stagnant on offense,” Jaime Jaquez Jr. said. “We try to sometimes just get the best shot possible, rather than just an open good look.”

Coach Mick Cronin said turnovers let Washington back in the game. Against USC, UCLA committed 13 turnovers – more than its opponent for the first time all season. On Thursday, the Bruins had 18 miscues, 10 of them in the second half.

“Eighteen turnovers to me is like 25 to other coaches, so beyond unacceptable,” Cronin said.

He called out his “supposed” two best players – Jaquez and Tyger Campbell – for combining to have nine unforced turnovers.

“At no point did they get trapped, so those two single-handedly let the other team back in the game with their carelessness with the ball,” Cronin said.

But, the coach defended his team from too much criticism after a win.

“Are we supposed to win every game by 30?” Cronin said. “I’m just wondering. I mean, we won. We’re 18-4. We’re in the top five of every metric that matters.”

Jaquez led the Bruins with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Amari Bailey, making his first start since returning from a foot injury, had 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting.

“Coasting is never a part of the plan – or any game plan of ours,” Bailey said. “Really just trying to again put together two great halves. We didn’t do that tonight.”

Four Bruins scored in double figures, with Campbell (11 points) and Adem Bona (10 points) joining Jaquez and Bailey. Jaylen Clark and David Singleton both added nine points.

UCLA went into Thursday’s schedule a half-game ahead of Arizona atop the Pac-12 standings, staying in first with the win. The Bruins have now won eight straight over Washington and currently have the longest home win streak in the nation at 20 games.

“I’m not going to speak on that,” Jaquez said on the streak. “Knock on wood. Don’t jinx anything.”

The Bruins jumped on the Huskies from the start, scoring the first eight points of the game and then clamping down on defense. During one stretch in the first half, Washington committed six turnovers in seven minutes and had 13 turnovers in all through the first 20 minutes

UCLA also did not allow Washington to shoot a free throw until midway through the second half.

Keion Brooks Jr. led the Huskies with 23 points.

Bona capped a 12-0 first-half run with a steal and a dunk in transition, Bailey rewarding him for running the floor as they extended their lead to 26-8. Bailey had missed seven games with a foot injury before entering the USC game off the bench.

The Bruins scored early and often from close range, with 26 of their first 30 points coming in the paint. That helped UCLA shoot 57% from the field in the first half despite going 2 for 8 from 3-point range.

But whatever momentum the Bruins had in the first half did not translate to the second half, when they were outscored and outplayed by the Huskies.

Jaquez said the turnovers lead to easy transition points because the defense can’t get set up.

“That really dictates a lot of your offense and your defense in the second half,” Jaquez said. ”And we just didn’t have that tonight.”

Cronin described the nature of the turnovers as throwing passes at recipients’ feet and hurling “Nolan Ryan fastballs off the glass.”

“Guys were screwing around thinking we’re up and we’re just going to win,” Cronin said. “I mean, you know they’re way better than that.”

He added: “I attribute it to immaturity.”

Still, Cronin urged for credit to go to Washington, and – despite his concerns – stressed that he was happy with an 18-4 record.

“Everybody should be happy if you’re a UCLA fan, and I’m happy,” Cronin said. “I’m not happy about the turnovers.”


UCLA hosts Washington State on Saturday at 4 p.m.

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