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UCLA Basketball News Roundup: Bruins’ Depth Saved the Day

UCLA’s depth keys a win over a terrible UC Berkeley team.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at California
It was not pretty, but Chris Smith (above), David Singleton, and Jules Bernard keyed UCLA’s comeback win.
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the UCLA Bruins won and played ugly at times, again. UCLA beat a historically awful UC Berkeley Golden Bears team, 75-67, but it took overtime. Markybcool describes the game as incredibly ugly in the first half and at the start the second half. Ryan Smith’s story for the Daily Bruin has the right headline: Bruins barely escape ruin at Berkeley against winless not-so-Golden Bears. Both of these articles do a good job recapping the game. This roundup will focus on the coaching.

UCLA started off about as bad as possible without forfeiting. It was so bad they could not score. Interim Coach Bartow responded by benching the entire starting five early in the first half after UCLA started 0-9 from the field. After the game, Bartow explained the move:

It wasn’t good. But you know, I don’t know, I really don’t know [how they responded to that move]. We’d only scored 25 points at half. So, I don’t know how good of a move that was or not. We’ve got 10 guys that, like in practice, if you saw us practice, we’ve got 10 guys that we are kind of rotating in and out. So we have a lot of confidence in all 10.

Interestingly, the benched players seemed to react well. Kris Wilkes said:

I mean, definitely. You never want to get taken out that early, especially when you are a starter. But, you know, that caused us to play harder and it might have worked. I think that it worked a little bit. I mean, we were able to come back and win.

As Bartow said he’s not sure that helped in the first half. The Bruins were awful. That said, I think there is a larger point here. This team is so deep that a coach can use different combinations depending on who is playing well and who matches up well with the other team to make things work. On Saturday, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were playing well. On Wednesday, the best lineup was David Singleton, Jules Bernard, Chris Smith, Kris Wilkes and Moses Brown. Ben Bolch of the LA Times writes:

Bartow found a lineup he liked after UCLA trailed by 11 points early in the second half and it helped the Bruins rattle off a 12-0 run. It consisted of Singleton and Wilkes plus center Moses Brown and guards Jules Bernard and Chris Smith, a unit whose biggest contribution might have been its selfless play.

While Brown and Wilkes are starters, the other three are eight, ninth, and sixth in minutes per game. Yet, they keyed the second half run that led to UCLA’s win. Ryan Smith discusses this in his Daily Bruin article:

UCLA also received a significant lift from its bench unit.

Singleton came in and connected on four of his seven tries from deep while Smith and freshman guard Jules Bernard added a combined 13 points and eight rebounds.

A note on each one. Chris Smith had three assists and the only basket for UCLA in overtime. That’s the play that symbolizes him as he missed (or was fouled) on a close shot, was blocked and finally made that only basket in overtime. He was determined.

Bernard did his one of five routine and shot an out of control airball as usual this game. But he also was a key to the defense. He makes the zone work because he is a high effort player.

And, then, is the MVP last night. The OCR and Daily News are too cheap to send their excellent reporter Thuc Nhi Nguyen to road games, even at UC Berkeley, but she summed up the game in one tweet:

The Bruins leading scorer in the game and on the season agrees. LA Times beat writer Ben Bolch describes it:

UCLA forward Kris Wilkes regained his shooting touch with 27 points, making nine of 15 shots, and guard Singleton triggered the Bruins’ comeback by making all four of his three-point shots in the second half on the way to 12 points.

“Really, I think it started with David Singleton,” Wilkes said. “I think the energy sparked when David started hitting threes and we were all able to follow after him.”

The last coaching move was to add Jaylen Hands to the above lineup last night in the crunch. Technically, UCLA won the game in overtime at the free throw line and it was Hands who keyed that. The Associated Press writes:

The Bruins made only one basket in overtime but pulled away at the free-throw line while outscoring the Bears 11-3 in the extra period.

Hands, who shot 2 of 10 from the floor, led the surge of free throws by making all six he attempted in overtime. Wilkes added two and Moses Brown had one. Chris Smith made UCLA’s only basket in overtime.

UCLA beat a bad team last night and needed overtime to do it. But this team is so deep its win was keyed by its sixth, eighth and ninth men. The key is the eighth man in minutes, David Singleton who played a career high 30 minutes last night. Singleton is probably UCLA’s “best” player. No, he is not the best at any one thing but he may be the best at playing within himself and the team concept. Singleton gets the last word:

We were just trusting each other. We were moving the ball and passing the ball well. We got back to what we can do. We stopped caring about who gets the credit and stuff like that. We played more like a team, like a family, to be honest.

Go Bruins!