Tyger Campbell spent the last year watching basketball with a knee injury. In his first chance to play for the UCLA Bruins, he did it all for new coach Mick Cronin in an 87-57 exhibition win. James Williams writes in the Orange County Register:
Tyger Campbell did not disappoint in his much-anticipated debut for the UCLA men’s basketball team in its 87-57 exhibition victory over Cal State Stanislaus on Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion.
After missing last season with a torn ACL in his left knee, Campbell did a little bit of everything in his first game appearance as a Bruin, finishing with a double-double (14 points, 11 assists), two steals and just one turnover in 27 minutes.
When the redshirt freshman point guard with the flowing dreadlocks wasn’t throwing a lob for Jalen Hill to finish with a dunk, he was setting up Prince Ali for 3-pointers or bouncing entry passes to Alex Olesinski for layups.
That’s certainly a great start but the competition was not exactly the best. In his post-game news conference, Coach Cronin discussed how the team improved as the game continued:
But as time went on, I thought our athleticism, our defense picked up. It was the difference in the game because we obviously didn’t shoot the ball very well. We were 5-for-22 from three, but I thought our passing was great for the most part tonight. We had 19 assists and if we’d shot the ball better, we would’ve been in the 20s. If you average 19, it gets you in the top five in the country in Division I.
Obviously, Tyger had 11 of those 19 assists. The biggest negative may have been when Tyger was off the floor. Ben Bolch explains in the LA Times:
UCLA’s offense hinged almost exclusively on Campbell in the early going. He was involved in his team’s first 11 points via assist or scoring (including two Jules Bernard free throws that came as a result of taking a pass from Campbell on a fast break).
The Bruins struggled to generate offense when Campbell went to the bench and fell behind by as many as four points in the first half before running off 11 consecutive points to take control.
Campbell showed that he could do more than pass, tipping a Stanislaus State entry pass to himself for a steal and scoring on a variety of moves. He used a nifty ball fake to elude a defender before whirling for a short jumper, buried an open three-pointer and made a floater at the halftime buzzer that earned him a celebratory body bump with Hill.
Outside of Campbell, one player looked good in a Cronin sort of way. The Daily Bruin’s Sam Connon wrote:
The two freshmen may have combined for 20 points, but Cronin said junior guard Chris Smith was one of the players who impressed him the most.
“We’re trying to work hard to get (Smith) an identity as a player,” Cronin said. “I told him if I had his size and athleticism, my identity would be deflections, defense, blocked shots, rebounds. Scoring will come in time; he can do that.”
Smith accounted for seven of the Bruins’ 44 deflections in the game in addition to his 13 points and nine rebounds. When UCLA was down 16-12 in the first half, a 3-pointer and midrange jumper by Smith helped kickstart a 22-6 run that gave the Bruins the lead for good.
While Smith’s scoring helped UCLA overcome an early hole, he said he credited his performance to the active defensive mindset Cronin had taught him.
It was a nice game against an inferior opponent. More importantly, UCLA may have found a point guard. Appropriately, Tyger Campbell gets the last word:
It felt great. Obviously being sidelined last season due to my injury I’ve been itching to get back out there. Obviously tonight I just felt great out there. It was just a great night for me; exciting.