There’s a lot to talk about here, but let’s start with the clear headliner: Jake Kyman. Kyman was the “other” freshman to come in this offseason, and has been forgotten especially with the emergence of Jaime Jaquez Jr. But in his first taste of Pac-12 play, on the road in one of the more hostile environments in the conference, Kyman announced his presence. Kyman scored 21 points off the bench on 7-12 shooting, all on three pointers. Whenever UCLA needed a big basket they turned to Kyman, and he responded in kind, including hitting the game-winning three with 8.9 seconds. Kyman is not the best defender in the world, but he came into the season baring the hype of being UCLA’s best outside shooter, and this was the first game where that idea truly came to fruition. I’m not expecting Kyman to continue this level of play through the rest of conference play, but if he can at least provide consistent outside shooting, it will go a long way to unlocking UCLA’s offensive potential.
Another thing that will help? Chris Smith continuing to have games like he did tonight. Smith was a monster in his own right tonight, getting a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds while also adding in 5 assists. Honestly, the biggest question mark was why he didn’t play more minutes, as he only played 23.
Of course we can’t forget Jaquez, who put in another impressive performance. Jaquez wasn’t the scorer he has been in recent games, but he also put in 11 rebounds and had three steals, and had two crucial free throws in the final minute. Jaquez earned those free throws by recognizing the situation and driving immediately, which coincidentally earned UCLA a two for one opportunity. He’s just a great player who makes everyone on the team better.
One last shout-out goes to Cody Riley. Riley doesn’t look great on the stat sheet (four points and one rebound and fouling out in 11 minutes) but I thought he played extremely well defensively and really set the tone for the Bruins in regards to hard play. If Riley can figure out his layup issues, he could really be effective for the Bruins down the stretch.
There were some negatives in this game, and they start with Prince Ali. Frankly, Ali should not be playing anything close to significant minutes at this point. In 23 minutes, he had five points on 2-10 shooting, and led the team in turnovers with four. If you look at the analytics breakdown of the game, Ali was equally awful, being the worst UCLA player in almost every category, though my favorites were him having the worst efficiency (-6), game score (-5.2), and +/- (-5). I want to have a larger conversation about this so I’ll put in a pin in this for now, but it’s something to watch going forward, and I think Mick Cronin is at least aware of this fact as Ali was not in UCLA’s closing lineup for this game.
But we’ll end with a quick shout-out to coach Mick Cronin. It’s been a rough stretch for the Bruins, especially with the recent loss to a bad Cal State Fullerton team. But this is where having an actual coach compared to Steve Alford was helpful. Cronin recognized that his team needed a wake-up call, so he took away everything UCLA from the players until they re-earned the four letters. That’s something that feels straight out of the John Wooden playbook, and the players responded in kind with perhaps their best performance of the season. This season was always going to be a struggle, especially considering what was left behind in the aftermath of the Alford era, but UCLA responding the way they did is a fantastic sign for the future.
Jake Kyman led the Bruins with 21 points. Chris Smith led the team with 12 rebounds. Tyger Campbell led the team with 7 assists. Isaiah Stewart led the Huskies with 24 points.
3 Takeaways (plus a bonus takeaway)
- Player of the Game: Jake Kyman - I mean, cmon. Chris Smith has a good claim to this as well for his all-around performance, but I have to give it to Kyman for blowing up the way he did. Just a fantastic performance for the true freshman.
- Thing to improve: Minutes Allocation - There is no reason Prince Ali should be playing 23 minutes at this point. There is no reason David Singleton should only be seeing 4 minutes. Also, while we’re here, Jaime Jaquez probably shouldn’t be playing 37 minutes if he’s going to get through his first college season in one piece. Oh, and Shareef O’Neal did not see the floor in this game. Mick Cronin’s rotations have been questionable this season, and they’re definitely something to monitor going forward, especially if certain players continue to play at their current level going forward.
- You won’t believe it, but the Pac-12 refs were bad in this one - That’s it, that’s the takeaway.
- A quick aside - I didn’t really know where to put this, but I’ll throw it here because why not. By now, BN readers are probably aware of my love of former UCLA great GG Goloman, but you probably didn’t know that I am an avid watcher of Japanese reality show Terrace House (available on Netflix!). So imagine my joy to see my boy GG show up in the background of multiple episodes of this current season, as he is currently playing basketball in Japan and one of his teammates is a current housemate. This is all incredibly good for me and only me, and I just wanted you all to know this.
UCLA next plays on Saturday in a matchup at Washington State. Tip-off is currently schedule for 4 PM PT.