Taking care of the basketball is the focus for coach Mick Cronin and the Bruins.
UCLA men’s basketball (12-10, 5-4 Pac-12) will hit the road after two consecutive victories to take on Arizona State (13-8, 4-4) – in a matchup between the two worst 3-point shooting teams in the conference – Thursday and No. 23 Arizona (15-6, 5-3) on Saturday.
The Bruins have coughed up 10 turnovers in each of the past two games, a step up from the 22 giveaways they logged in a 21-point drubbing by then-No. 12 Oregon on Jan. 26.
“We’ve gotten more familiar with the offense,” said junior guard Chris Smith. “(Cronin) put in some new sets obviously when he got here. Sets that we’ve never ran before. But now we know what’s going on, what to look for, what passes to make, what shots to take, and that’s really helping.”
The Bruins are one of two teams in the Pac-12 with just one player averaging double-digit points – Smith. On the other hand, the Sun Devils have four players scoring more than 10 points per game, led by guard Remy Martin and his 19.3 points per game, which rank second in the Pac-12.
“They’re just like a freelance group,” Smith said. “Just guys that can spread you out. You try and shrink the floor on teams but they just drive and kick. Their coach, he lets them play. So, it’s a lot of creativity on their side of the court.”
The Sun Devils are known for their “Curtain of Distraction,” a student-section antic intended to sidetrack free throw shooters.
But Smith – who is shooting 85.4% from the charity stripe, good for third in the conference – said with his new level of focus from the line, he doesn’t expect to notice the Curtain of Distraction. He also attributed his improved shooting stroke from the line – which has steadily improved from 58.5% in his freshman year – to making 25 consecutive free throws nearly every day since last summer.
After a career-high 30 points against then-No. 20 Colorado on Jan. 30, Smith attempted just five shots in UCLA’s win against Utah as his point guard handled the scoring burden.
Redshirt freshman guard Tyger Campbell dropped 22 points Sunday, equaling the total number of points he scored in his preceding seven games.
“I just felt like everything came together for me that game. I was confident, shooting with confidence,” Campbell said. “I just saw what they were giving me and I just took it, whether it was a pull-up, or whether roll man was open or throwing it back.”
Campbell will have his hands full defensively on the upcoming road trip, facing off against Martin and Arizona guard Nico Mannion, a projected lottery pick in next year’s draft who is averaging 14.2 points and 5.7 assists per game.
“I’m not really worried about matchups, as far as myself matching up with another guard,” Campbell said. “I’m more worried about how we’re going to play team defense and how we’re going to talk and how we’re going to figure out a way to win any way possible.”
The Bruins are amid a stretch of 13 games in 45 days but are the sole team in the Pac-12 to not have a player averaging over 30 minutes per game.
Tipoffs are scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursday against the Sun Devils and 7 p.m. on Saturday against the Wildcats.