Credit to the UCLA Bruins for always finding a new and interesting way to make me completely baffled.
The Bruins played extremely well for much of this game and carried an 11-point lead with under 8 minutes to play. They, then, proceeded to let the Oregon State Beavers get back into the game. That’s not a new story. If anything, I feel I’ve written that story way too many times at this point.
No, the new part is where UCLA didn’t immediately fold late and continued to fight. Chris Smith, who had a really solid game, drove in with aggression and made a tough shot while getting fouled to put the Bruins ahead by one. On the ensuing Beavers possession, the Bruins played extremely good defense, forcing Tres Tinkle into a bad three-point shot that completely missed the rim with one second left and the Bruins were able to pull away with a 68-67 victory.
One of the biggest factors in this game was that Murray Bartow finally listened to the chorus of Bruin fans and started David Singleton. It certainly helped that Bartow’s hand was forced by Prince Ali being unavailable for the game, but Singleton more than held his own, putting up eight points and three assists. Crucially, Singleton’s steady game acted as a great complement to Jaylen Hands, who was able to open up and become more aggressive while sharing the court with a more natural ball-handler. Hands had eight assists and 12 points, to go along with two steals and only a single turnover, which is just another data point in what has been a surprisingly strong season from the sophomore. Of UCLA’s three potential early-departures, Hands has looked the most NBA-ready.
Let’s talk about another one of those potential early-departures real quick, as Moses Brown also had himself a solid game. The true freshman big man had 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting, including an impressive 4 of 5 from the free throw line, to go along with 11 rebounds. Crucially, against Oregon State’s strong interior game, Brown played smart, technically-sound defense and only committed one foul, which allowed him to play a team-high 37 (!) minutes.
UCLA’s offense was about what you’d expect at this point. The fade down the stretch can be attributed in part by an offensive system that thrives at pace but has no concept of how to effectively work when slowed down. The nice wrinkle in this game was the aggression that the offense showed in driving, as the Bruins worked their way to 28 free throws, 10 of which were shot by Jules Bernard, who seemed to have a stretch where every UCLA offensive possession seemed to end in Bernard driving to the basket and getting fouled.
Weirdly enough, I thought the UCLA defense actually played much better than the stats would suggest. Oregon State shot 50.8% from the field and had a dominating 40-26 advantage in the paint, but my lasting memory of this game might be the series of long, difficult three-point shots that the Beavers were forced into taking. Oregon State went 6 of 20 (30%) from distance, which definitely helped keep things close.
Moses Brown led the Bruins with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Jaylen Hands led the team with eight assists. Stephen Thompson Jr. led the Beavers with 21 points.
- Player of the Game: David Singleton - Did Singleton have the best night statistically? No, but Singleton was a steadying presence throughout the game and was a perfect complement to Jaylen Hands in the backcourt. Hopefully this starting lineup sticks when Ali is able to play, because it was a refreshing change of pace in a lost season.
- The Least-Shocking Event of the Game: Bruins Let Beavers Back in Late - Honestly, if you were shocked that UCLA would play extremely well for 3⁄4 of the game only to let an opponent back into the game, then I don’t know what to tell you.
- Hey, Let’s Talk About Those Rotations Real Quick - Can I just say how baffled I was by the bench usage in this game? Jules Bernard got a solid 19 minutes, which is good, but Alex Olesinski played more minutes than Cody Riley and Jalen Hill combined. And while Brown’s 37 minutes was impressive, there were moments where Brown seemed to be struggling and really looked like he could use a few minutes on the bench just to regroup. Oh yeah, and did you know Kris Wilkes was actually on the court for 35 minutes? Because it honestly felt like he just wasn’t there for most of the game.
UCLA next plays on Saturday, when they go for the season sweep against the Oregon Ducks. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 pm PT.