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UCLA Basketball News Roundup: Tyger Campbell Stars in a Team Win over Utah

Campbell had the best game of his career in a 73-57 win but it was a team effort

NCAA Basketball: Utah at UCLA
Tyger Campbell blew past Utah
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Bruins head coach Mick Cronin remains one of the most interesting postgame interviews. He is occasionally funny, but almost always candid. After yesterday’s 73-57 win over Utah, this is what Cronin said about the star of the game:

Happy for Tyger Campbell, obviously. It’s tough being a young guy when everybody expects the world from you in your first year. Unfortunately, that’s how college basketball has changed for the worse now. But he stood in there, kept working. You stand in there and keep working and you get better.

What exactly did Tyger do? Maggie Vanoni explains over at the Orange County Register:

With just under a minute left to play, Tyger Campbell received a standing ovation as he walked toward the bench to conclude his best performance as a Bruin. His floppy hair bounced as he high-fived his teammates and coaches before taking his seat to watch his teammates run out the win.

A week after playing just six minutes in UCLA’s loss at Oregon due to a hip injury, the redshirt freshman took charge as the Bruins’ floor general and scored 16 points in the second half to lead UCLA to a 73-57 victory over Utah Sunday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins’ victory completes the team’s first weekend sweep of Pac-12 opponents this season and improves them to 12-10 overall and 5-4 in conference play. . . .

Campbell, who sat out his true-freshman year last season due to a torn ACL, led the Bruins on Sunday with career highs of 22 points on 7-of-13 field goal shooting and made six of his seven attempts from the free-throw line. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa native also finished with eight assists, just one shy of his career best.

When did he do it? Let’s see what Josh Newman at the Salt Lake City Tribune writes:

Alfonso Plummer’s left-corner triple with 8:42 to play cut the Utah deficit to four at 50-46. As was the case at multiple points earlier in the second half when the Utes came charging, UCLA had an answer.

Redshirt freshman point guard Tyger Campbell’s 8-foot jumper in the lane was followed by a Jules Bernard midrange jumper from the right wing to give the Bruins (12-10, 5-4 Pac-12) a 54-46 lead going to the under-8 media timeout.

Campbell was outstanding in the second half in finishing with a career-high 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting to go along with eight assists.

Utah never seriously challenged again, while UCLA completed its most-productive weekend of the season with a sweep of the Mountain schools. The Bruins were coming off a 72-68 win over No. 20 Colorado on Thursday night.

Cronin provides analysis on why Tyger was so successful and his offensive strategy:

Today, I thought he had the advantage in the pick and roll. Obviously, we rode him as long as we could and he dominated the second half from an offensive standpoint. . . . We thought Tyger had an advantage in the pick and roll. I could see he felt confident out there. I’m not a big ‘My offense’ guy. I’m a big ‘Where’s the mismatch.’ More like the pros, I guess. Go to your strength. It’s going to be different every game, depending on how the other team defends.

But the game was not just about Tyger. Ben Bolch writes over at the LA Times:

Freshman guard Jaime Jaquez added 18 points and four steals and sophomore forward Jalen Hill had 14 points and eight rebounds for the Bruins, whose surge has been sparked by increasingly stout defense. The Bruins held Utah to 39.3% shooting and have given up an average of just 63.8 points over their last five games.

However, Cronin shined the non-Tyger spotlight on a surprising player, Cody Riley. Bolch notes:

As evidence of his team’s growing toughness, Cronin pointed to Cody Riley. The sophomore forward finished with just two points and six rebounds but was a brute against the Utes, collecting three steals and reaching in to force a jump ball that gave his team possession.

Cronin said it’s a brand of ferociousness that his young players rarely displayed in high school because their coaches asked them to defend without fouling so that they could stay in the game.

Cronin described how it was not just a change from a Steve Alford offense first team but also to playing defense after not doing so in high school. Riley was the example.

Good coaching is telling your guy ‘Don’t foul,’ because he’s got nobody as good as Tyger on the bench, or Jaime [Jaquez Jr.] or Jake [Kyman], whomever you want to pick. Their big guys, who tell them [to] stand by the rim. Cody’s [Riley] never fought around the post and made those type of plays in his life. Nobody’s ever asked him to do that, to make those defensive plays. So, it just takes time. There’s buy-in, but then you find out what you’re all about, like I told our guys. People judge you and the world’s not fair. People have a lot of prejudice in the world, unfortunately. They prejudge West Coast kids. They prejudge UCLA kids, saying they’re soft or they’re selfish. These guys are proving that they’re not. We’re no finished product. Their effort is there. That’s all you can really ask. You just try to build habits over time. You see Cody out there, his stat line’s not great, but he made some unbelievable defensive plays — especially in the second half. And that’s what you’ve got to have if you’re going to have a winning team. You have guys that are focused on that instead of pouting about how many shots they make. It’s a big change in their DNA for us.

This is a great point because, in the first half when three starters were on the bench with foul trouble, the defense remained great against the Utah Utes. Yes, the offense suffered, but the team as a whole is playing very good defense.

Go Bruins!