Whicker: UCLA’s OT victory over Villanova brings Pauley Pavilion back to life

LOS ANGELES — Even before COVID-19 slammed the doors of Pauley Pavilion 20 months ago, it was becoming the most ornate study hall on campus.

UCLA basketball? A night in Pauley promised quiet and plenty of elbow room, and reliable Internet service. According to Dad, they used to be good, but the Bruins hadn’t been to the Final Four since 2008.

Today’s typical freshman was 5 years old then. All he knew, growing up, was a loss to St. Bonaventure in the NCAA Tournament, home losses to Belmont and Liberty that were not made less painful by the fact that Belmont and Liberty were better teams, and a wasted conference season after Steve Alford was fired on Dec. 31, 2018.

That preceded a typically clumsy coaching search, in which UCLA went after reigning NCAA championship coach Tony Bennett of Virginia, got played by TCU’s Jamie Dixon and Tennessee’s Rick Barnes, and wound up bringing in Mick Cronin. He was known for steel-driving defensive teams at Cincinnati who squeezed basketballs into dust when it was time to make big baskets.

Cut to Friday night, for an 8:30 p.m. game in the middle of November, the type of game that normally wouldn’t get the typical Bruin out of the library. The line of kids stretched from the front of Pauley all the way to the top of the hill next to the tennis center. There was a DJ, and there was Cronin in the late afternoon delivering doughnuts, and there was Athletic Director Martin Jarmond as well. And when the doors opened and a top-five game began, there was desperation and passion in the air that hadn’t been heard or seen since Lonzo Ball’s drive-by season of 2016-17, and before that, who knows?

“The students bring the energy,” Cronin said later. “The traffic stops everyone else. But they can walk.”

The traffic will not be the usual disincentive this season. The Bruins got all of this started with last spring’s 11th-seeded run to the Final Four (which required surviving a First Four game). Here, they trailed Villanova, 60-50, with 9:24 left, and inexorably got it into overtime and then won, 86-77.

It was a profound illustration of why they’ve earned the hype, why they seem well-qualified for the moment. More will be known on Nov. 23 when UCLA plays top-ranked Gonzaga in Las Vegas, or when it goes on the road to play Marquette and then meets North Carolina in another neutral-site showdown in Las Vegas.

But maybe we know enough. The second-ranked Bruins had to adjust to the commando effort that every Villanova team brings, every game. They had to find third efforts to get rebounds when second efforts weren’t enough. After that 10-point deficit, they gave fourth-ranked Villanova three baskets the rest of regulation, and when Villanova’s Justin Moore found his way into the lane as he’d done for two hours, Jaylen Clark met him and persuaded him to miss.

That led to a 5-minute overtime that was a little too long for the Wildcats, four of whom played 38 or more minutes. Only one Bruin, Johnny Juzang, clocked in at 40 minutes. The depth is so real that the Bruins won without the injured Cody Riley, one of the best post playmakers in America.

David Singleton came off the bench to hit two 3-pointers in the first half and give UCLA some separation, and he was barely seen again. Myles Johnson, the transfer from Rutgers, got one basket in his 36 minutes and blocked two shots, but one of those blocks was on Moore when it was 69-69 in overtime, and Juzang came down to score and give UCLA the lead it would never lose.

“When you have a whole team coming back like this, it means a lot,” said point guard Tyger Campbell, who absorbed three charges in the second half and overtime and also hit two 3-pointers that cut that 10-point shortfall to four. “I trust them all, one through 13.”

“We can’t be the team that we want to be unless Tyger shoots the ball like that,” Cronin said, but, again, Campbell doesn’t have to be Pete Maravich. He hit five of nine shots and made one turnover in 33 minutes, while dealing with All-Big East point man Collin Gillespie on the other end. Campbell also had four assists, including a drive-and-kick to Juzang that made it 74-69.

Cronin traces the Bruins’ turnaround to defense, which began to improve just before COVID-19 hit in 2020 but took another large step in the run-up to the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

Not since UCLA lost to Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament has it lost a game by conventional means, if you consider Jalen Suggs’ half-court shot a happenstance instead of grand strategy.

Even that Pac-12 loss was in overtime. The game before that, USC’s Tahj Eaddy beat the Bruins with a hope and a heave from the corner, in a game UCLA had controlled. So something was happening, even though you had to live deep in the Ostin Center to sense it.

“We have to be better defensively than we were tonight,” Cronin said. “Breakdowns are the things that kill you and we had some of those, and we learned how not to have them last year.

“But they also learned how to win last year and that’s what we talked about in the second half. We knew they had to get stops. But they believe in each other because they had so many games like this in the tournament. And they know I believe in them.”

The Bruins were so stout in the lane that Villanova missed 14 of 22 layups. Add a plus-14 in rebounding, and the people who run Pauley’s ticket booths had better not lose those “Sold Out Tonight” signs. Lord knows how long it took them to scrape off the mold.

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UCLA routs Cal State Bakersfield, but Cody Riley injures knee in season opener

LOS ANGELES — Okay, we’ve seen enough, bring on fourth-ranked Villanova.

The UCLA men’s basketball team has made things look too easy in the past week. Albeit the first act was an exhibition against NCAA Division II Chico State, but Tuesday night’s 95-58 season-opening dismantling of Cal State Bakersfield at Pauley Pavilion actually counted, and maybe more importantly, showed the Bruins are ready for a real test.

However, the Bruins might be without starter Cody Riley after the redshirt senior forward fell awkwardly just eight minutes into the game and grabbed his left knee while rolling back and forth in pain. After several minutes on the court while trainers and staff tended to him, he got up and walked to the bench on his own, but his walk was wobbly as several fans chanted his name.

“We won’t know anything about Cody’s injury until something is confirmed,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said.

Riley, who averaged 10 points per game last season, grabbed three rebounds in his four minutes and did not return to the game.

It could further impact the depth of the frontcourt. Center Mac Etienne has suffered a potential season-ending injury to his right knee, according to Cronin. The 6-foot-10 freshman is waiting for final confirmation from the medical staff on the diagnosis of the injury and a timetable for return.

Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard each scored 19 points, and Jaime Jaquez Jr. added 14 as the second-ranked Bruins led wire to wire. Tyger Campbell and Jaylen Clark each scored 10 points for UCLA (1-0).

It didn’t take long for the arena’s public address announcer to begin promoting Friday’s nationally televised showdown against Villanova. The Bruins led 75-39 with 9:16 left and the “#2 UCLA vs. #4 Villanova” graphic was being displayed on the jumbotron encouraging fans to buy their tickets.

“I have a lot of experience with Villanova from my Big East days,” Cronin said. “I know what they’re all about. I understand how hard they play and how physical they are, I thought (tonight) would give us a little bit of a microcosm.”

“We have our work cut out for us on Friday night, I promise you,” he added.

Tuseday’s outcome was never in doubt, and the margin was never less than 28 points over the final nine minutes.

UCLA scored 47 points in the first half, but it was the defense that put things away early. The Bruins (1-0) were up 18-11 at the 10:25 mark in the first half before going on a 26-7 run to finish the half. UCLA held Bakersfield to 26% shooting and just three made field goals over the last 10:02 of the opening frame. The Roadrunners were 3 for 17 during that stretch.

While the Roadrunners were missing, UCLA was converting. The Bruins made eight of their last 15 shots to end the half, including a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer from Jaquez to make it 47-19 at halftime.

The Bruins started the second half 5 for 6 from the floor, including two 3-pointers from Bernard and Juzang. The margin grew to 32 points (60-28) with more than 15 minutes left.

UCLA held Bakersfield to just 38% shooting overall, and shot 50% from the field itself, including 13 for 27 shooting from behind the arc.

The Bruins showed off their depth. Ten players logged more than 15 minutes, including promising sophomore Jaylen Clark, who has been battling an illness for a couple of weeks. Clark had 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and, of course, an extraordinary defensive effort.

“The guy is unbelievable,” Cronin said of Clark. “There will be times this year where Jaylen will play point guard then defend the center.”

Justin McCall scored 11 points and Shaun Williams added 10 for the Roadrunners.

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Alexander: Another UCLA victory in another crazy finish

Being the 11th Seed That Could is nice. But Mick Cronin noted Sunday night, after his UCLA Bruins knocked off Alabama, that just overachieving is hardly satisfactory.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, now you’ve been to an Elite Eight,’” he said. “That’s not why I came to UCLA. I’ve got a lot of friends in the NBA, and they make fun of people that have rings that say ‘Conference champion.’ There’s only one. Whoever wins the NBA title is the world champion.

“So for me, we’ve got to win three more games.”

They still have a chance. And now that UCLA is back in the Final Four, maybe we should stop being surprised.

They were ready for the moment again Tuesday night, beating No. 1 seed Michigan, 51-49, in a slog of a game that further demonstrated the resilience that has made UCLA just the second team to go from the First Four to the Final Four. And while Cronin has repeated at each of his post-game news conferences during this run that all the credit should go to the players, those players are a reflection of the guy in charge.

“On April 9, 2019, I told you, I spell fun w-i-n,” Cronin said Tuesday night, a reference to the day he was hired at UCLA. “You have to find a way to win, and these guys are having the most fun they’ve ever had in their life back in that locker room because they won.

“I told them I was going to teach them how to win. And you have to be able to win different ways … to find a way to beat (Michigan) with defense the way we did tonight, I’m obviously extremely proud of our team. It was just resilience.”

Johnny Juzang, who shot the Bruins back into the game in the first half after they trailed 11-4, and finished with 28 points even after hurting his right ankle early in the second half and leaving the game briefly, is an L.A. guy who originally chose Kentucky but had no hesitation returning home to play for Cronin. The shooter and the defensive-minded coach wouldn’t seem to be a natural match, but Juzang said the idea of being coached hard appealed to him.

“There’s just something inexplainable. I just felt something about Coach,” he said. “I knew that he was hard. I knew that he was intense. I knew that he was defensive-minded, and those are things that drew me. I wanted that. I wanted to be pushed. … I knew that he would push me and hold me accountable and challenge me, and I wanted to play for a program where he does that for everybody.”

Consider that he left Kentucky, another of the sport’s blue-bloods.

Also consider that Kentucky missed the tournament, while UCLA knocked off the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in its region to get to the last Saturday. The last 11 seed to do that was LSU in 1986, led by former Crenshaw High star John Williams, which beat the top three seeds in its region.

These Bruins and those Tigers are two of only five No. 11 seeds ever to make it to the Final Four, joining George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2011 – the first team to get there from the First Four – and Loyola-Chicago in 2018.

None of us had the heart during the postgame Zoom session to ask Cronin if he’d started looking ahead to Gonzaga, the undefeated overall  No. 1 seed that laid waste to USC’s Final Four chances in the first game of the evening.

But maybe the Bruins – having won two tourney games in overtime already – were paying close enough attention to that game to be reminded just how important it is to seize the moment. Gonzaga (30-0) took the initiative from the tipoff and USC was on its heels most of that game. In the nightcap, after Michigan (23-5) took its early 11-4 lead with UCLA making just 2 of 13 field-goal attempts, the Bruins (22-9) threw the next punch. Juzang scored 12 points in a 3:40 span to put his team in front, where it would stay most of the game.

The little things matter for this team, hugely, and a guy who didn’t score a point might have been indispensable. Kenneth Nwuba, the 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore from Lagos, Nigeria who had averaged 5.4 minutes in the 16 games he played, was on the court for 21 minutes after Cody Riley got into early foul difficulty. Nwuba had five rebounds, drew two charging fouls early in the game and was one of the guys Cronin was thinking of when he suggested that the stat sheet might as well be crumpled up.

“Kenny has never played that many minutes, I don’t think,” he said. “He dug deep for us – five big rebounds, great physicality, set some great screens. Again, stats can be overrated. Here is a guy that didn’t score but (the questioner) brought his name up for a reason. He had a big impact on the game physically.”

How big a milestone is this? UCLA will be in the Final Four for the first time since 2008 and the 19th time overall (though the 1980 appearance was vacated by the NCAA, so the official number is 18).

Cronin made it in his second season in Westwood. It took Ben Howland three years. It took John Wooden 14.

“I knew the expectations, right?” Cronin said. “I mean, it’s pretty clear at UCLA.

“I thank (former athletic director) Dan Guerrero for believing in me. I tried to convince him and the guys that were around him with this that I understood it and I wanted it. Coach (Rick) Pitino is like an older brother to me, and he used to say, ‘I’d rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a lamb.’ It’s like I told my father (Hep), ‘If I don’t take this job I’ll feel like a lamb.’”

Oh, he’s a lion all right. His players will attest to that, and so will any official within earshot after a questionable call.

That passion has gotten his team back to the Final Four. It already is a double-digit underdog to Gonzaga in Saturday’s semifinal, according to the experts in the desert. But would you really want to bet against UCLA’s toughness, resilience and stubbornness?

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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Alexander: These UCLA Bruins certainly are not in ruins

  • UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1) takes a shot over BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU center Richard Harward (42) grabs a rebound as teammate Caleb Lohner (33) and UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1) close in during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA forward Kenneth Nwuba (14) reacts to a foul called during the second half of a first-round game against UCLA in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Brandon Averette (4) reaches for a rebound with UCLA forward Kenneth Nwuba (14) and BYU forward Caleb Lohner, second from left, and BYU forward Matt Haarms (3) during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA head coach Mick Cronin directs his team during the second half of a first-round game against BYU in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA guard Johnny Juzang (3) takes a three point shot as BYU forward Gideon George (5) defends during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (4) drives past BYU forward Caleb Lohner (33) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Brandon Averette (4) battles for the ball with UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., right, as UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1) closes in during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Brandon Averette (4) battles for the ball with UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., right, as UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1) closes in during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA guard David Singleton (34) drives past BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (4) goes up for a shot as BYU guard Connor Harding (44) and teammate Richard Harward (42) defend during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Brandon Averette (4) battles for the ball with UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., right, as UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1) closes in during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) gets screened out by UCLA forward Kenneth Nwuba (14) as he tries to defend UCLA guard Tyger Campbell (10) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Spencer Johnson (20) looks to shoot the ball in front of UCLA forward Mac Etienne, right, during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU forward Matt Haarms (3) shoots over UCLA forward Mac Etienne (12) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU head coach Mark Pope directs his team during the first half of a first-round game against UCLA in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Spencer Johnson (20) drives past UCLA guard Johnny Juzang (3) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU forward Caleb Lohner (33) looks for help as UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (4) closes in during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU forward Matt Haarms, left, battles for a rebound with UCLA forward Cody Riley (2) and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. (4) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU forward Caleb Lohner (33) battles for a rebound with UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., left, during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU guard Alex Barcello (13) drives past UCLA forward Mac Etienne (12) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • A reflection of BYU and UCLA teams warm up as fans watch in a reflection prior to a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • BYU forward Matt Haarms (3) goes up for the tipoff with UCLA forward Cody Riley (2) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • UCLA players prepare for a first-round game against BYU in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

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Tell me you weren’t expecting this, UCLA fan.

Or maybe I should put it another way. Up until the Bruins arrived at the arena in Boulder, Colo., on Feb. 27, their supporters had reason to expect a nice tournament run. UCLA was 17-4, had a shot at the regular-season Pac-12 title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament …

… and then it all went blooey. Four straight losses, blown leads, an early exit in the Pac-12 tournament at the hands of Oregon State, and all of a sudden the pearl clutchers had a lot of pearls to clutch.

So what to make of this weekend? The team that couldn’t hold a lead in the final three weeks of the regular year, the one that was painful to watch at times in the first half of Thursday night’s 11th seed play-in against Michigan State, blew past the Spartans in the second half. Then they blew past BYU in the first half Saturday, thanks to Johnny Juzang, and they’ll be playing in the round of 32 Monday night.

This is why we watch. Consider that the Oregon State team that knocked off the Bruins in Las Vegas won the conference tournament and, likewise is in the NCAA round of 32. As is Colorado. As is USC. And as is Oregon, the last of which is a reminder that nothing is guaranteed in Pandemic Basketball after Virginia Commonwealth, Oregon’s opponent, was ruled out Saturday because of what were described as multiple positive COVID-19 tests.

Maybe that 5-0 start by the Pac-12 this weekend, not including Oregon’s walkover, should have sent a message to the rest of the country.

“You’re finding out that the Pac-12 not being ranked all year was an absolute joke,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “And some people ought to be ashamed of themselves.

“Now, you know, maybe people can’t stay up late and I don’t blame them because I can’t either. Where I live, the sun shines all day and it comes up early. So I get up early. So maybe people can’t stay up for our games. But I’ve been doing this a long time. And, you know, back in 2011, I coached in a league (the Big East) where 11 teams made the NCAA tournament. The national champion (Connecticut) finished in a tie for ninth, 10th and 11th.

“So I know good teams. Oregon State, Oregon, Colorado, USC, you know, those teams winning is just not a surprise at all. It’s just not a surprise.”

The four teams the Bruins lost to at the end of the season: Colorado on the road by 9, Oregon on the road by 8 (in a game that had been postponed twice and was plopped into the final week schedule almost at the last minute), USC by a point and Oregon State by 4 in overtime in ‘Vegas.

Each of those could be around a while. And in UCLA’s case, the chances of the magic continuing seemed to have brightened while Cronin was still answering questions in the postgame Zoom session. No. 14 seed Abilene Christian, a program that has only been playing on the Division I level since the 2013-14 season, knocked off Texas 53-52, which means a team that didn’t become eligible for NCAA championship competition until 2018 will be playing a team that, as Cronin noted, practices in a gym with 11 championship banners on the wall.

Then again … Cronin said that assistant Darren Sorvino, who was assigned to keep an eye on Abilene Christian, predicted the Wildcats would take out Texas.

“And I turned to T.J. Wolf on my staff, and he said, ‘Coach, he’s right. They force 20 turnovers a game. They’re really, really good.’ That was just in passing,” Cronin said.

“So obviously they have a great coach (Joe Golding). Somebody forces 20 turnovers a game, that’s unbelievable. Somebody just told me Texas had 23 turnovers. And they got senior — they got (Andrew) Jones, (Courtney) Ramey. They’ve got serious guards now, Matt Coleman. And they turn the ball over that many times? That means Abilene Christian is really, really good. That’s all I can say.”

Challenges are good, and that stat will be a way to make sure Cronin has the attention of his players on the practice floor Sunday.

As it was, the Bruins – with their lineup of three sophomores and two juniors and no seniors on the active roster – could have had a chip on their collective shoulder after being relegated to the First Four, but Juzang said it was just a matter of having another chance to “go out and compete.” Now it’s a matter of continuing to earn themselves additional chances.

What came out of Saturday night’s game? UCLA’s defensive play made sure the vaunted BYU explosiveness (78.7 points a game and a 10.3 point average margin of victory) didn’t materialize, aside from some long-range shooting by Alex Barcello (20 points on 9 of 17 shooting, though he was 2 of 6 on 3-pointers) and a first step by 5-11 Brandon Averette that continually allowed him to blow by Bruins defenders en route to a 15-point night.

Juzang scored 19 of his 27 points before halftime to help the Bruins to a comfort level they maintained for most of the game, even after BYU trimmed what had been a 13-point lead to four early in the second half.

And with 50 points in his first two tournament games Juzang joined rare company. The only two UCLA players with more points in their first two tournament games – and remember, this is a lot of players over a lot of games – remain Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who was known as Lew Alcindor when he scored 67 points in his first two games in 1967), and Reggie Miller (56 points in 1987). Juzang passed Willie Naulls (49 in 1956) on the all-time list.

“Those are some legendary names,” Juzang said. “So it’s an honor to be mentioned with them, no doubt.”

But then he added this: “We’re not done. We’re not finished. I’m happy I’ve been able to contribute in that category. But, you know, we’re not satisfied … We don’t plan on going home.”

This could be far more invigorating a March than the Bruin faithful had reason to hope for two weeks ago during that four-game losing streak.

“Playing good teams can either kill you, or it makes you better,” Cronin said.

In this case, let’s say it was Plan B.

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Whicker: Beat-up UCLA rallies to beat Michigan State in night of validation

Mick Cronin had not seen John Wooden’s statue yet, the one that sits outside Purdue’s Mackey Arena, just in front of the Pyramid of Success. UCLA hadn’t reached West Lafayette, Indiana until 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday night for practice, and the Bruins were herded through the halls without a chance to wander.

Nowadays, Wooden’s image is a good omen for those who follow him. It used to peer through thick glasses, disapprovingly, when the first successors fell short of ultimate victory, but nearly everyone understands that 46 years have changed things. Wooden now is a reminder that UCLA once could do this, rather than a taskmaster who insisted it must.

Besides, Cronin had another old coach to worry about.

Hep Cronin came up from Cincinnati to watch his son’s first NCAA Tournament game as UCLA’s coach. It turned out to be UCLA’s first tournament win since the second round in 2017, when Lonzo Ball led the Bruins past Cincinnati, coached by Cronin, in Sacramento.

Mick had not seen his dad since February of 2020. Hep was coming to the Pac-12 Tournament that March, but a virus intervened. They talk each day, with Mick gently ribbing him about the winter sunshine that L.A. generally has and Cincinnati generally doesn’t.

Now?

“Now I get to see him again,” Mick said.

After a series of late-game swan dives, and after a long Sunday afternoon of waiting to see if the NCAA would even beckon, UCLA suddenly has much to anticipate.

Its 86-80 overtime victory over Michigan State will be prized as a rare example of Bruin grit and gumption, even though both teams were 11th seeds, and in the second half everyone found out why Michigan State was. The Spartans (15-13) were smooth and commanding in seizing a 44-33 halftime lead, but UCLA (20-7) paralyzed them with the defense that it hasn’t displayed often, and it somehow grabbed the game’s joystick and made every play it had to in the final minutes. Michigan State missed 11 of its final 15 shots and lost a game it had led by five with 30 seconds left.

“I never thought we couldn’t come back and win,” Jaime Jaquez, Jr. said. “But we had to come out in the second half with different energy.”

Or maybe Jaquez needed to bequeath some of his to everyone else. It’s difficult to remember when a UCLA player has had such an influential NCAA Tournament. Jaquez played all 45 minutes, hit 11 of 20 shots and scored a career-high 27 points, and after halftime, Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard got on board. In overtime Juzang went down with an ankle injury and had to be helped off the court, and who knows if he’ll be available Saturday against No. 6 seed Brigham Young? But by then he had scored 21 points, and the Bruins had underlined the fact that Michigan State’s defense, at least temporarily, has gone the way of the Oldsmobile.

“We thought (Malik) Hall and (Joey) Houser would guard Jaime,” Cronin said, “and we liked those matchups, so he knew I was going to be coming his way.”

Jaquez used his exemplary footwork and his keen anticipation, a sense that he displayed from Day One in a Bruin uniform in the fall of 2019. He can also shoot it conventionally, but he also has worked at the game so diligently that he knows how to invent the angles of attack. At one point he was zooming in for a layup and the ball escaped his hands, but he kept his legs moving and found himself in the left corner. The ball found him, too, and Jaquez swished a 3-pointer.

He also rebounded his own free-throw miss and converted the 3-point play that gave the Bruins the 77-77 tie it took into overtime. Over the final 25 minutes, Michigan State scored 36 points.

Jaquez had already committed to UCLA when Cronin took the job. He also had traveled with the Mexican national team, playing against men. “I think sometimes he’s almost better when we’re down,” Cronin said.

“I just try to give us what we need,” Jaquez said. “Tonight it was scoring, along with trying to get deflections. The kind of defense we played in the first half wasn’t going to get it done.”

The win also showed a maturity level in the program itself. True, UCLA spent the final two weeks losing close games. But it lost to USC on a fanciful shot at the buzzer, and it lost to Oregon because it suffered late turnovers against pressure, and it didn’t shoot free throws well against Oregon State. The Bruins had a four-game losing streak but they weren’t in the tank. They were actually the better team through most of those games and just couldn’t hold up down the stretch. There’s a difference, and Cronin kept saying that it was the nature of the game, not the nature of the players, that was causing the problem.

“They needed something like this,” Cronin said. He also said that he would find that Wooden statue before the Bruins left Indiana. They seem in no rush.

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Relief turns to hope as the UCLA Bruins are finally buzzed into the tournament

As the bracket announcement for the expanded Indiana State Basketball Fair was nearing the end, UCLA assistant coach Michael Lewis got the stink-eye from Mick Cronin, his boss.

“He’s our resident bracketologist,” Cronin said Sunday. “He assured me we were in. The fact that we got in was good for his job security. His credibility was slipping.”

No problem. The Bruins were the fifth Pac-12 team to gain entry to the NCAA field, which tells you about the fallowness of that field, and will play Michigan State in a First Four game sometime on Thursday, somewhere in Lewis’ home state.

The survivor of that battle of 11th seeds will meet Brigham Young in the next round. Both games are winnable for UCLA, just as USC’s game with the Drake-Wichita State winner is winnable, as is a probable matchup with Kansas after that.

Even UC Santa Barbara, the Big West champ with a 22-4 record, doesn’t appear disadvantaged by fifth-seeded Creighton in its first round. CSUN coach Mark Gottfried is among those who think the Gauchos are a live dog.

As Cronin mentioned, everyone is 0-0, even a Gonzaga club that is 26-0. The conference tournaments portend three weeks of NCAA chaos. Oregon State plowed through the Pac-12, and Georgetown, which entered the Big East tournament with a losing record, took advantage of Villanova’s injuries and then beat Connecticut and Creighton.

That could have endangered UCLA, but instead bounced Louisville, whose fans have totally shrugged off the fact that tournament selection committee chairman Mitch Barnhart is the athletic director at Kentucky. Right?

The Bruins got this bid because they won close games, a knack that escaped them at the very end. At one point they were 8-1 in games decided by five or fewer points, which does not count a triple-overtime win over Pepperdine. Only two of their losses in their 0-4 finish were that close, but they had control at Oregon and literally threw it away.

Michigan State conjures up images of muscled-up longshoremen who drop anvils on nearby heads. This MSU team was actually outscored by its opponents. It is true that the Spartans beat Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State in a 13-day span. It’s also true that Michigan State lost by 30 to Iowa and Rutgers, scoring 37 against the Scarlet Knights, and shot 41.2 percent in an opening-round Big 10 tournament loss to Maryland.

If anything, Michigan State’s familiarity with top-shelf Big Ten basketball will be its edge. There’s little question the Spartans, 9-11 in the Big 10, would have contended strongly for a Pac-12 title. But it doesn’t mean UCLA can’t win, particularly if Jules Bernard, Jaime Jaquez and Johnny Juzang can find a way to get hot simultaneously.

Meanwhile, what matchup does USC prefer? Drake won its first 19 games but then lost Roman Penn and Stephen Hemphill to injury, and it saw no one resembling Evan Mobley. Wichita State regrouped after Isaac Brown replaced coach Gregg Marshall, had no bad losses, and defeated Houston.

The Shockers have the ultimate 2020s player in Tyson Etienne, who shoots 39.9 percent from three-point land and 37.9 percent from two. He’s also DeAndre Jordan’s cousin.

UCSB has lost once since Dec. 27 and has JaQuori McLaughlin, the Big West Player of the Year. Creighton is 20-8 and well-respected, but is questionable on two fronts: a defensive field goal percentage of 48.6 and the Bluejays’ clunky 64.2 performance from the foul line.

Ultimately, those who win NCAA games will have to develop a sort of lab-rat obedience. The governing body is leaving few decisions to the coaches or schools.

“They’ve gone all-out,” Cronin said of the NCAA. “Here’s your hotel, here’s your floor, here’s your hallway and elevator. This is where you eat and practice. They’ll have expanded planes and buses to keep the distancing.”

This uncomfortable season might lead to useful procedures in the future, including more league games, and a centralized tournament. In fact, why not play the whole thing in L.A. someday? Certainly Staples Center, the new Clippers’ arena, Pauley Pavilion, Galen Center, Honda Center and Toyota Arena in Ontario could handle it.

There were those who thought the mere idea of a 2021 tournament was madness, and certainly COVID-19 was enormously disruptive. But, as Barnhart said, four of every five scheduled regular-season games were played. If the danger is controlled, the enthusiasm doesn’t have to be.

Besides, the Bruins got a chance to bump knuckles on a day when Duke, Louisville, Cincinnati, Indiana and Kentucky didn’t. When you still have games ahead, on the second Sunday of a pandemic March, you’re ahead of the game.

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Isaac Bonton, Washington State hand UCLA its second straight loss

  • UCLA guard Johnny Juzang, right, grabs a rebound in front of Washington State guard Isaac Bonton during the first half of Thursday’s game in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • Washington State forward DJ Rodman,shoots over UCLA guard David Singleton during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • UCLA guard Tyger Campbell, right, shoots next to Washington State guard Isaac Bonton during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • Washington State forward Aljaz Kunc, front, grabs a rebound next to UCLA guard Jaylen Clark during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • Washington State guard Isaac Bonton (10) shoots over UCLA forward Mac Etienne (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • UCLA guard Tyger Campbell, right, drives while pressured by Washington State center Dishon Jackson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • Washington State guard Isaac Bonton, right, shoots while pressured by UCLA guard Jules Bernard during the second half of Thursday’s game in Pullman, Wash. Washington State won, 81-73. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • UCLA guard Johnny Juzang shoots next to Washington State guard Isaac Bonton during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Washington State won 81-73. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • Washington State center Efe Abogidi (0) and UCLA guard Jake Kyman (13) go after a rebound during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Washington State won 81-73. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • Washington State forward Aljaz Kunc shoots during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against UCLA in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Washington State won 81-73. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., right, shoots over Washington State center Dishon Jackson during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Washington State won 81-73. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • Washington State guard Ryan Rapp (22) grabs a rebound next to UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Washington State won 81-73. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • Washington State guard TJ Bamba shoots during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against UCLA in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Washington State won 81-73. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • UCLA coach Mick Cronin shouts to his players during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Washington State in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Washington State won 81-73. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • UCLA guard Jaylen Clark, front, shoots next to Washington State forward Aljaz Kunc, obscured, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Washington State won 81-73. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • Washington State forward DJ Rodman (11) secures a rebound next to guard Isaac Bonton (10) and UCLA guard Jaylen Clark (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Washington State won 81-73. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

  • The Washington State bench celebrates during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against UCLA in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Washington State won 81-73. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

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Washington State delivered an early dagger, then kept driving the knife deeper.

Noah Williams scored six straight points to begin the second half, extending the Cougars’ lead to 16 points. Isaac Bonton made back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 62-39 with 11:42 left.

Washington State got its revenge for the 30-point loss UCLA handed the Cougars on Jan. 14 with an 81-73 Pac-12 win over the Bruins on Thursday night in Pullman.

The Bruins did have a counter punch, but it came too late. UCLA (13-5 overall, 9-3 Pac-12) used a full-court press that flustered Washington State in the final minutes and cut the margin to 78-71 with 1:09 left – as close as it had been since the opening minutes of the game – but Bonton helped close it out from the free-throw line.

“It was too late when we turned it on,” UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell said of the press. “We can’t let it get to that point.”

Bonton finished with 26 points, including four 3s. He also added five rebounds and five assists. Washington State (11-8, 5-8 Pac-12) finished 13 for 22 (59 percent) from 3-point range.

“Defense is our issue. We didn’t get the job done at the 3-point line,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “We lost 39 to 15 at the 3-point line.”

UCLA forward Cody Riley tried to play on his sprained right ankle, which kept him out of the Bruins’ last game against USC, but he struggled. Riley played just 10 minutes, scored four points and fouled out.

Johnny Juzang led UCLA with 25 points (17 in the second half) on 7-for-18 shooting, and Tyger Campbell added 17 points and five assists. Jaime Jaquez Jr. was the third leading scorer with just seven.

The team was also without center Jalen Hill, who is not with the team due to personal reasons.

“Cody is a strong, talented player, it’s tough not having him out there,” Juzang said. “We still found a way to score decently, but (giving up) 81 is just way too much.”

Riley started the game, but only played six minutes of the first half. His absence showed offensively. The Bruins shot 44% from the field, including a 5-for-20 showing from beyond the arc.

“It had nothing to do with his ankle,” Cronin said of Riley. “I love him, he’s been a great player for us, but tonight was unacceptable.”

Riley had two fouls in the first half but picked up his third and fourth within the first 56 seconds of the second half.

UCLA, which was coming off an 18-point loss to USC, led 12-10 at the 14:10 mark of the first half before a DJ Rodman 3-pointer gave the Cougars a lead they never relinquished.

Rodman – a SoCal native from JSerra High – made three consecutive 3-pointers to start the game, giving him nine of the Cougars’ first 14 points as they made their first four 3-point attempts.

However, Rodman was just the spark. Bonton made a step-back 3 to open a 25-18 lead, then Kunc Aljaz made another 3 moments later to put UCLA in an 11-point hole (29-18) with 6:10 left in the opening half.

Washington State finished the first half with seven 3-pointers and held a 42-32 lead at halftime.

Kunc finished the game with 13 points off the bench and Rodman added 11.

The Bruins have dropped three of their last four games, but Campbell said their confidence has not wavered.

“The confidence is never not there,” Campbell said of getting back on track. “We go into every game knowing we can play.”

UCLA will take on Washington Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

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Whicker: USC’s defense crushes UCLA’s hopes of surviving shorthanded

  • Head coach Mick Cronin talks with Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins looks toward the score board against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. USC Trojans won 66-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ethan Anderson #20 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins yells toward an official in the second half of a NCAA basketball game against the USC Trojans at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tyger Campbell #10 sits on the bench as head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins yells toward an official in the second half of a NCAA basketball game against the USC Trojans at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans looks on against the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the loose ball against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins scrambles for the loose ball against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans scramble for the loose ball against Jules Bernard #1 and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins sits on the bench against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the loose ball against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans looks on against the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans shoots against Mac Etienne #12 and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans shoots against Mac Etienne #12 and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins passes against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Chevez Goodwin #1 reacts along with teammate Isaiah Mobley #3 of the USC Trojans against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kenneth Nwuba #14 of the UCLA Bruins drives tot the basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • USC Trojans looks on wearing masks due to the Coronavirus Pandemic against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins shoots over Drew Peterson #13 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins reacts against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Isaiah Mobley #3 of the USC Trojans fights for the rebound against Kenneth Nwuba #14 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Noah Baumann #30 of the USC Trojans takes a last second three point attempt against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kenneth Nwuba #14 of the UCLA Bruins drives tot the basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Isaiah Mobley #3 of the USC Trojans shoots against Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the rebound against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the rebound against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the rebound against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans reacts after a foul call in the first half of a NCAA basketball game against the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins drives to he basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins drives to he basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins reacts against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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Before Bill Walton’s consciousness even began to stream Saturday night, UCLA grimly announced two members of their sitting lineup.

Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, the Bruins’ two bigs, were out. That’s 40.7 minutes, 17.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.

The Bruins would not use that as an excuse. More important was USC’s refusal to use it as a hall pass.

The Trojans took those two holes in the Bruins’ lineup and planted their feet deep inside them. The result was a suspense-free, 64-48 whipping that allowed USC to tie UCLA for first place in the Pac-12.

USC’s businesslike nature was most evident on defense. UCLA missed 16 of 19 3-point attempts and shot 34 percent overall. Only 11 of UCLA’s baskets were assisted, which means the longer, more animated Trojans cut off the usual lanes that start up the Bruins’ offense.

Point guard Tyger Campbell had about as much influence as Riley and Hill. He went for 10 and found his driving paths barricaded. Campbell, Jules Bernard, Johnny Juzang and Jaime Maquez combined to shoot 13 for 45. In fact, backup center Micawber (Mac) Etienne was UCLA’s best player, with eight points in 27 minutes.

On the other end, Campbell & Co. could do nothing with guards Ethan Anderson and Tahj Eaddy, who combined to hit eight of their 15 three-point attempts.

“They’re a top 15 team defensively, according to some of the metrics,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “They have a lot of creativity, a lot of multiple-position players. When they spread the floor with four guards, it’s really hard to guard them.

“With Campbell, we just tried to put some length on him. We thought that was a big key to challenge his shots. He didn’t score huge for them tonight.”

USC’s superiority at the rim made UCLA miss nine of 13 layups, and the Bruins led for only two minutes and three seconds, and averaged just .787 points per possession. UCLA became the fifth of the past nine USC opponents to shoot below 40 percent.

The shortfall forced the Bruins to play zone, a subversive idea in Coach Mick Cronin’s world. Enfield said that it made the Trojans stop and think, “because they never played zone and we haven’t practiced it,” but they looked comfortable in getting the ball inside to Evan Mobley or Isaiah Mobley and then preparing well to shoot when it came back out.

The Mobleys got 14 points and 10 field-goal attempts between them. Evan will be a high first-round pick in next year’s NBA draft but, like Onyeka Ogonkwu last year, he isn’t always the centerpiece of the offense. Instead, he and his brother snapped up 20 rebounds.

On nights like this, USC looks like a stealth candidate to stir up some dust in the NCAA Tournament. The Trojans are 15-3 now.

“I remember when we found out we were picked sixth in the conference,” Eaddy said. “We said, ‘What? There’s no way.’”

“I kept repeating the names of all the transfers that were coming in,” Anderson said, referring to Eaddy, Chevez Goodwin, Noah Baumann, Isaiah White and Drew Peterson. “Everybody knew Evan Mobley was coming, but I kept telling people we had more coming than that. I’m glad they’ve been able to show what they can do. It’s been absolutely excellent.”

“We’ve done well but we’ve got nine games to go,” Enfield said, wary of slippage.

This team could go a long way, if it’s really true that defense travels.

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USC’s defense crushes UCLA’s hopes of surviving shorthanded

  • Head coach Mick Cronin talks with Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins looks toward the score board against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. USC Trojans won 66-48. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Ethan Anderson #20 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins yells toward an official in the second half of a NCAA basketball game against the USC Trojans at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tyger Campbell #10 sits on the bench as head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins yells toward an official in the second half of a NCAA basketball game against the USC Trojans at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans looks on against the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the loose ball against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins scrambles for the loose ball against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans looks on against the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins sits on the bench against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the loose ball against the USC Trojans in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans scramble for the loose ball against Jules Bernard #1 and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans shoots against Mac Etienne #12 and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans shoots against Mac Etienne #12 and teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the second half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins passes against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Chevez Goodwin #1 reacts along with teammate Isaiah Mobley #3 of the USC Trojans against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kenneth Nwuba #14 of the UCLA Bruins drives tot the basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • USC Trojans looks on wearing masks due to the Coronavirus Pandemic against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins shoots over Drew Peterson #13 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins reacts against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Isaiah Mobley #3 of the USC Trojans fights for the rebound against Kenneth Nwuba #14 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Isaiah Mobley #3 and teammate Tahj Eaddy #2 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Noah Baumann #30 of the USC Trojans takes a last second three point attempt against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Kenneth Nwuba #14 of the UCLA Bruins drives tot the basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Isaiah Mobley #3 of the USC Trojans shoots against Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the rebound against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the rebound against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jules Bernard #1 of the UCLA Bruins fights for the rebound against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans reacts after a foul call in the first half of a NCAA basketball game against the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins drives to he basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins drives to he basket against Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Evan Mobley #4 of the USC Trojans drives to the basket against Mac Etienne #12 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins reacts against the USC Trojans in the first half of a NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 6, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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Before Bill Walton’s consciousness even began to stream Saturday night, UCLA grimly announced two members of their sitting lineup.

Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, the Bruins’ two bigs, were out. That’s 40.7 minutes, 17.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.

The Bruins would not use that an excuse. More important was USC’s refusal to use it as a hall pass.

The Trojans took those two holes in the Bruins’ lineup and planted their feet deep inside them. The result was a suspense-free, 64-48 whipping that allowed USC to tie UCLA for first place in the Pac-12.

USC’s businesslike nature was most evident on defense. UCLA missed 16 of 19 3-point attempts and shot 34 percent overall. Only 11 of UCLA’s baskets were assisted, which means the longer, more animated Trojans cut off the usual lanes that start up the Bruins’ offense.

Point guard Tyger Campbell had about as much influence as Riley and Hill. He went for 10 and found his driving paths barricaded. He, Jules Bernard, Johnny Juzang and Jaime Maquez combined to shoot 13 for 45. In fact, backup center Micawber (Mac) Etienne was UCLA’s best player, with eight points in 27 minutes.

On the other end, Campbell & Co. could do nothing with guards Ethan Anderson and Tahj Eaddy, who combined to hit eight of 15 three-pointers.

“They’re a top 15 team defensively, according to some of the metrics,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “They have a lot of creativity, a lot of multiple-position players. When they spread the floor with four guards, it’s really hard to guard them.

“With Campbell we just tried to put some length on him. We thought that was a big key to challenge his shots. He didn’t score huge for them tonight.”

USC’s superiority at the rim made UCLA miss nine of 13 layups, and the Bruins led for only two minutes and three seconds, and averaged just .787 points per possession. UCLA became the fifth of the past nine USC opponents to shoot below 40 percent.

The shortfall forced the Bruins to play zone, a subversive idea in coach Mick Cronin’s world.  Enfield said that it made the Trojans stop and think, “because they never played zone and we haven’t practiced it,” but they looked comfortable in getting the ball inside to Evan Mobley or Isaiah Mobley and then preparing well to shoot when it came back out.

The Mobleys got 14 points and 10 field goal attempts between them. Evan will be a high first-round pick in next year’s NBA draft but, like Onyeka Ogonkwu last year, he isn’t always the centerpiece of the offense. Instead, he and his brother snapped up 20 rebounds.

On nights like this USC looks like a stealth candidate to stir up some dust in the NCAA tournament. The Trojans are 15-3 now.

“I remember when we found out we were picked sixth in the conference,” Eaddy said. “We said, ‘What? There’s no way.’”

“I kept repeating the names of all the transfers that were coming in,” Anderson said, referring to Eaddy, Chevez Goodwin, Noah Baumann, Isaiah White and Drew Peterson. “Everybody knew Evan Mobley was coming, but I kept telling people we had more coming than that. I’m glad they’ve been able to show what they can do. It’s been absolutely excellent.”

“We’ve done well but we’ve got nine games to go,” Enfield said, wary of slippage. This team could go a long way, if it’s really true that defense travels.

Read more about USC’s defense crushes UCLA’s hopes of surviving shorthanded This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed

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UCLA holds off Marquette with poise down the stretch

  • UCLA guard Johnny Juzang fouls Marquette guard Koby McEwen during the second half of Friday night’s game at Pauley Pavilion. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • UCLA forward Jalen Hill, right, defends against Marquette guard Koby McEwen during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Marquette forward Theo John, right, looks for a pass around UCLA forward Jalen Hill during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • UCLA forward Jalen Hill (24) dunks during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Marquette, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Head coach Mike Cronin of the UCLA Bruins reacts to a play during the first half against the Marquette Golden Eagles at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • Marquette forward Justin Lewis, center, goes up for a shot against UCLA guard Chris Smith, left, and UCLA guard David Singleton (34) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • UCLA guard Chris Smith, left, is defended by Marquette forward Justin Lewis during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • of an NCAA college basketball game Marquette forward Jamal Cain, left, dunks against UCLA forward Jalen Hill during the first half Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. , right, shoots while defended by Marquette forward Theo John, front left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Marquette guard Greg Elliott (5) shoots against UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • UCLA guard Chris Smith (5) is defended by Marquette forward Theo John (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • UCLA coach Mick Cronin looks to the sideline during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Marquette on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Marquette forward Dawson Garcia, right, shoots against UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Jalen Hill #24 of the UCLA Bruins and Theo John #4 of the Marquette Golden Eagles fight for the rebound during the second half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • UCLA forward Jalen Hill, right, defends against Marquette guard Koby McEwen during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Marquette forward Justin Lewis, center, goes up for a shot against UCLA guard Chris Smith, left, and UCLA guard David Singleton (34) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • UCLA guard Jules Bernard, left, is defended by Marquette forward Jamal Cain during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • UCLA guard Tyger Campbell celebrates a win over Marquette after an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (4) shoots next to Marquette forward Dawson Garcia (33) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Theo John #4 of the Marquette Golden Eagles blocks a shot by Johnny Juzang #3 of the UCLA Bruins during the second half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski stands near the sideline during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against UCLA on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • UCLA guard Jules Bernard shoots over Marquette guard D.J. Carton (21) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • UCLA guard Tyger Campbell, right, is defended by Marquette guard Koby McEwen during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Jamal Cain #23 of the Marquette Golden Eagles dunks the ball over Jalen Hill #24 of the UCLA Bruins during the first half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Jaylen Clark #0 of the UCLA Bruins and Koby McEwen #25 of the Marquette Golden Eagles fight for the ball during the first half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins steals the ball from Theo John #4 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Jalen Hill #24 of the UCLA Bruins dunks the ball over D.J. Carton #21 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Koby McEwen #25 of the Marquette Golden Eagles reacts to a play during the first half against the UCLA Bruins at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins brings the ball up court against the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Jaylen Clark #0 of the UCLA Bruins and Dawson Garcia #33 of the Marquette Golden Eagles fight for the ball during the first half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: D.J. Carton #21 of the Marquette Golden Eagles shoots a three point basket defended by Cody Riley #2 of the UCLA Bruins during the second half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket during the first half against the Marquette Golden Eagles at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Justin Lewis #2 of the Marquette Golden Eagles and Jalen Hill #24 of the UCLA Bruins fight for the rebound during the second half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: D.J. Carton #21 of the Marquette Golden Eagles and Johnny Juzang #3 of the UCLA Bruins fight for the rebound during the second half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Justin Lewis #2 of the Marquette Golden Eagles and Jalen Hill #24 of the UCLA Bruins fight for the rebound during the second half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Dawson Garcia #33 of the Marquette Golden Eagles looks to pass the ball against Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins during the second half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Jaime Jaquez Jr. #4 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after getting fouled with Johnny Juzang #3 of the UCLA Bruins during the second half against the Marquette Golden Eagles at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Jalen Hill #24 of the UCLA Bruins defends the rebound against Greg Elliott #5 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the second half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Jalen Hill #24 of the UCLA Bruins dunks the ball during the second half against the Marquette Golden Eagles at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Head coach Mike Cronin of the UCLA Bruins reacts to a play during the first half against the Marquette Golden Eagles at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Koby McEwen #25 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the second half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: D.J. Carton #21 of the Marquette Golden Eagles shoots a three point basket defended by Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins during the second half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Johnny Juzang #3 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Jamal Cain #23 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: A general view of the empty seats at UCLA Pauley Pavilion while Chris Smith #5 of the UCLA Bruins takes a free throw shot during the second half of the game against the Marquette Golden Eagles on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Jalen Hill #24 of the UCLA Bruins dunks the ball over D.J. Carton #21 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half at UCLA Pauley Pavilion on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • UCLA guard Jules Bernard (1), forward Jalen Hill (24) and guard Chris Smith (5) celebrate a win over Marquette after an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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LOS ANGELES — UCLA’s shooting performance was a classic tale of hot and cold on Friday night. The Bruins endured separate stretches of five, six and seven consecutive misses. The stretches of six and seven were separated by one made shot.

When the shots weren’t falling, UCLA made up for it on defense, which anchored a 69-60 victory over Marquette at Pauley Pavilion despite a combined shooting performance of 3 for 20 from preseason All-American Chris Smith and sharpshooter Johnny Juzang.

“I’m proud of tonight’s game,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “It’s a game that reinforces what I coach because Chris (Smith) and Johnny (Juzang) going 3 for 20 won’t happen (again). We were still able to win the game.”

UCLA (5-1) held Marquette (4-2) to just six points in the final eight minutes of the game – part of a 14-3 run to finish the night. Three of UCLA’s four blocked shots came in the final five minutes. Two from Jalen Hill and one from Smith.

“Chris showed a lot of maturity tonight,” Cronin said of the team’s lone senior. “He had a big block, big rebounds and free throws to help us win the game.”

Jaime Jaquez Jr. led the Bruins with a career-high-tying 18 points and six rebounds. Jules Bernard, who came off the bench for the first time this season, added 15 points and seven rebounds. Juzang, the Kentucky transfer who started in his second game, finished with nine points (3 for 12 from the field) and Smith (0 for 8) scored four.

Bernard’s 15 points came on just seven shot attempts with no turnovers. He also added two steals.

“I’m a player who’s ready to play,” Bernard said. “Whether I start or come off the bench. I just played aggressive like I always do.”

“He’s become a very, very good player in front of our eyes,” Cronin said.

Juzang delivered a clutch jump shot with 2:12 left that extended UCLA’s lead to five points. If there was a time for UCLA to catch a hot shooting streak, it was at the end of the night. The Bruins converted on six of their last 10 field-goal attempts.

All of Smith’s free-throw attempts came in the final seven minutes, and he converted four of them, which helped to seal the game. It was all by design.

“We were struggling shooting,” Cronin said. “We wanted to get to the free-throw line late game, get Chris closer to the basket and get him to the free-throw line. It worked out for us.”

Marquette had won four of five coming in, including an upset of then-No. 4 Wisconsin. But the Eagles were held to just two field goals over the final seven minutes of their first road game. Marquette’s Dawson Garcia made a pair of free throws to tie the score for the last time at 56-all. Neither team ever led by double digits.

“We played a lot smarter the last eight minutes defensively,” Cronin said. “We got to the foul line and got a few key offensive rebounds.”

UCLA finished the night shooting 41% from the field, but Marquette’s 43% wasn’t much better. Marquette also had 18 turnovers to UCLA’s seven.

The Bruins fell behind by as many as seven in the first half after a Jamal Cain dunk made it 18-11. UCLA weathered an offensive drought that lasted more than three minutes, which included five consecutive empty possessions. David Singleton ended the shooting woes when he drained a corner 3-pointer.

Not only did Singleton’s 3 stop the drought, it sparked an offensive surge that saw the Bruins make nine of their next 11 field-goal attempts. Bernard made back-to-back shots, including a 3-pointer of his own before Jaquez Jr. thundered home an alley-oop in transition delivered from Tyger Campbell.

UCLA carried a 36-34 lead into halftime.

Friday night’s win is UCLA’s best of the season thus far, especially after it thumped mid-majors Seattle and San Diego. Its double-digit victory over Cal was expected and the triple-overtime victory over Pepperdine is looking more respectable after the Waves took down Cal themselves, handily.

Furthermore, the Bruins’ only loss – to San Diego State in the season opener – is hardly embarrassing after the unbeaten Aztecs took down Pac-12 contender Arizona State, 80-68, on Thursday night in Tempe.

“This was a big game for us. We knew (Marquette) had just knocked off Wisconsin,” Bernard said.

UP NEXT

UCLA hosts Long Beach State on Tuesday in a game that had been postponed last month.

Party in Pauley, Bruins win! 👏@jaquez_jr’s ties career-best 18 points as @UCLAMBB moves to 3-0 all-time against Marquette. pic.twitter.com/MYZ9txv5yA

— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) December 12, 2020

“I knew we had struggled from the 3-point line, as far as our shooting was concerned. When I saw an opening, I just took it and knew that we were in the bonus so I was driving, trying to draw fouls.”

Jaime Jaquez Jr. (@jaquez_jr), speaking to the media after UCLA’s win pic.twitter.com/z3r0AZM8by

— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) December 12, 2020

“Jules Bernard, obviously, the MVP in tonight’s game. His defense on their best players, his toughness, his rebounding, his efficiency on offense … He’s becoming a very good player in front of our eyes.”

Coach Cronin, speaking via Zoom after UCLA’s win pic.twitter.com/1L7U9XoayZ

— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) December 12, 2020

Jalen Hill finishes off a 6-0 UCLA run with this alley oop from @tygercampbell15!

Bruins lead by six with just 5:05 left in regulation.

📺: @Pac12Network
🖥: https://t.co/ZzjQRYhgcz#GoBruins pic.twitter.com/dG2t2GRs25

— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) December 12, 2020

.@JohnnyJuzang hits a long jumper to make it a 65-60 game and force a Marquette timeout.

📺: @Pac12Network
🖥: https://t.co/ZzjQRYhgcz#GoBruins pic.twitter.com/W14yZku394

— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) December 12, 2020

.@jules__bernard is good with the left again and UCLA leads by four!

📺: @Pac12Network
🖥: https://t.co/ZzjQRYhgcz#GoBruins pic.twitter.com/AWaHI8Q5y0

— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) December 12, 2020

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