It took some time, literally, but it seems like the UCLA Bruins are rounding into form on the hardcourt. After a season-opening loss to San Diego State, UCLA got a hard-fought victory over Pepperdine in triple overtime and shut down Seattle University on Thursday night.
The game against Pepperdine was followed by a postponed home-opening game against Long Beach State that made their fourth scheduled game of the season, against Seattle, the de facto home opener for the 2020-21 season.
After knocking off Pepperdine, 107-98, in three overtime periods, it looked to be another back-and-forth affair with Seattle as the first half saw nearly 10 ties and six lead changes before the Bruins REALLY looked like they rounded into form. Tied at 29 points apiece, UCLA took a 14-0 run into halftime with a 43-29 lead and didn’t really look back after that.
The Bruins saw big-time performances from a trio of players as Tyger Campbell, Jules Bernard and Jalen Hill each scored in double-figures against Seattle but the defense really put on a show.
They limited Seattle to just 23-of-59 from the field including 3-of-23 from three-point range. In fact, the Bruins limited the three-point shooting of Seattle to just 0-20 after they made their first three-point attempts including a dominant second half saw UCLA force Seattle to go 0-13.
“I wanted to hold them in the 40s, to be honest with you,” UCLA head coach Mick Cronin said. “We got a little sloppy late. I think our athleticism and size probably had a lot to do with that, wore them down. We definitely wanted to limit their 3-point shooting.”
They also recorded six steals and Hill led all players with three blocks himself.
“He’s a very effective rebounder and he’s our only shot blocker,” Cronin said. “So right there – 10 rebounds, three blocks – but more than that, you don’t want to have to play Jaime [Jaquez Jr.] at the five, because then you can never take him out. I still think Jaime is recovering from last Friday to be honest with you. It allows you to get Jaime and Chris [Smith] some rest and have us be able to play the way we practice.”
Campbell led all scorers with 17 points while Hill notched a double-double with 10 rebounds to go with his 11 points.
Smith crashed the boards very well, especially on the offensive side and the dominant second half saw the Bruins give a total of nine players at least 10 minutes on the court.
Cronin agreed, but the only issue with the team as of right now is the turnovers. In total, UCLA turned it over 15 times compared to Seattle’s 14. Losing the turnover battle is not a way to win a lot of games. And Cronin knows it.
“What I would allude to is we’ve got to stop turning the ball over,” Cronin said. “We’re not going to be a quality team the way we’re turning the ball over. We’re minus in the turnover category versus our opponents. I’ve been around long enough now to know you’re not ever going to finish at the top of your conference, not going to be a really good team, if you’re not plus in that category. You’ve got to be plus in the rebounding category and the turnover category. I’ve really got to clean things up as their coach – we’ve got to stop turning the ball over.”
Turnovers certainly do seem coachable, especially if Cronin knows it and knows how to fix it. Through three games, UCLA has turned it over 42 times compared to their opponent’s 39. They have, however, outrebounded their opponents by a combined margin of 124-101 (42-24, 54-43, 28-34 in games three, two, one, respectively).
The rebounding will go a long way, especially if this is a team that is going to be well-rested and who is seemingly rounding into form as their Pac-12 opener against Cal is next up.
The Bears have lost both of their Pac-12 matchups this season but did just have a decent showing against Arizona State and star Remy Martin. Cal is averaging 67.8 points per game and is out rebounding their opponents.
The battle on the glass will be pivotal if UCLA wants to assert their dominance over the Bears and in the Pac-12 as they open conference play on Sunday, December 6.