Out of Bounds: It’s Kind of a Loaded Question
UCLA men’s basketball defended its home court and has now won seven of its last nine games, so Sports editor Sam Connon, Daily Bruin senior staffer Ryan Smith and assistant Sports editor Jacqueline Dzwonczyk broke it all down on this week’s episode of “Out of Bounds.” Also on this episode, the staff talks about UCLA women’s basketball’s home split against the Oregon schools, the upcoming UCLA beach volleyball season opener and how UCLA baseball looked in its first series of the season.
Sam Connon: Hi, my name is Sam Connon, and this is “Out of Bounds.”
SC: My name is Sam Connon, I’m the Sports editor of the Daily Bruin and this is episode four of “Out of Bounds,” the Daily Bruin Sports podcast. Today, I’m joined again by co-host Ryan Smith, who’s a Daily Bruin senior staffer, former Sports editor. How’re you doing today, Ryan?
Ryan Smith: I’m good.
SC: And then I’m also joined by guest host Jacqueline Dzwonczyk, assistant Sports editor. Jacqueline, how’re you doing? Excited to be on the show?
Jacqueline Dzwonczyk: So excited.
SC: Awesome. So today, we’re going to talk UCLA men’s basketball, a sweep against the Washington schools, a tight one in overtime against Wazzu on Thursday, and then another comeback against UW on Saturday – we’ll talk about those, implications headed into the postseason maybe. Then women’s basketball had a home split. They played Oregon – a top-10 team – and lost to them, but then came back and beat Oregon State in overtime. We’ll get everyone’s thoughts on that. And then UCLA beach volleyball, two-time reigning champions, they’re getting their season started this weekend. So we’ll make sure to talk about all those today. Starting off in men’s basketball, though, we were saying that they had the those two wins now they’re definitely still up there contending for a bye in the Pac-12 tournament, still technically in the running for a No. 1 seed with few games left on the slate. Ryan, I’ll start with your thoughts. What do you think from what you saw this weekend from UCLA?
RS: I really think it was just kind of a continuation of what we talked about last week. This team, when it plays to its identity, it can beat any team in its conference. I think it can beat plenty of the schools in the other power conferences. I think this team, it has bought into what Cronin is teaching them, you’re seeing them defend at an extremely high level and they know if they can keep their opponent under that 70-point mark, they’ve got a chance to win every game. It was nice to see them pull off a win against Washington State, despite giving up 83 points. That’s the first time they’ve won all year, when they’re going up more than 70. But I think they just, they’re all bought in. And we’ll see how long they can keep this momentum going.
SC: And Jacqueline, you were there with me on Thursday covering the Washington State game. What were your main takeaways from that game, specifically?
JD: Cody Riley was so good that game, and that’s something that they’ve been missing before this weekend, just having like Jalen Hill in there, but not really having a solid like No. 2 guy, like, down low. And I think Cody Riley stepping up with, I think it was 11 points in overtime, that was huge. And also just actually playing defense and being involved in every play was really big.
SC: Yeah, I think Mick Cronin, towards the beginning of conference play, tried experimenting with lineups that had Cody Riley and Jalen Hill in there at the same time, but it wasn’t really working out. And if Cody Riley can do what he did against Washington State on Thursday, then those lineups will definitely work a lot better. You can use size to your advantage a little bit more. You don’t have to have one big man going back and forth on both blocks, kind of like picking up way too many fouls, which was what was happening earlier in the season. And now if you get both those guys going at a decent rate, then that’s really how things can go in your favor down low. And then in the second half against Washington State, the 3-point shooting definitely picked up a bit too. That was huge because I think UCLA started 1-of-13 in the first half and then they turned it around shot above 50% in the second half, so that was definitely huge, too. David Singleton on Saturday against Washington, he had a couple of 3s. I don’t know Ryan, what do you think about this team’s 3-point shooting, it’s definitely a little streaky. You have the designated 3-point specialists in Singleton and Kyman, but just overall, how important do you think shooting is for this team?
RS: Well, this team obviously isn’t gonna score a lot of points in general, so anytime it can hit its 3s, that’s going to be a big plus. Obviously, you have David Singleton, Jake Kyman, those guys are going to hit their 3s every game, but it’s when guys like Chris Smith and Tyger Campbell are making their 3s when this team does become dangerous because it does defend at such a high level most nights and if you let them score, they’re gonna have a good chance to beat you on any given night.
SC: So, Jacqueline, the Washington State and Washington games both needed second-half comebacks. What do you think about how they kind of strung those together? What kind of stood out to you on that front?
JD: Yeah, I think they played defense a lot better, which is something Mick’s been talking about since the beginning of the season and it hasn’t really shown until the past few games. I also think Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were both in foul trouble against Washington on Saturday, and actually rotating them in and out for that reason kind of worked better than putting them both in together. And I think that was big down the stretch. .
SC: Yeah, it’s literally the second week in a row that I have made a horrible mistake on the show because two weeks ago, what was it, I said that they weren’t going to be able to beat better teams or something like that, beat ranked teams. And then last week on the show, I said that they wouldn’t be able to come back, they would only be able to hold leads and win tight games. But against Washington State and Washington, they put together a pretty good comeback. So, that’s definitely good to see heading down the stretch. You’ve got the mountain teams coming up this week on the road, that’ll be tough because Colorado is a ranked team, Utah on the road’s always tough, they have 10 wins at home this year. And then you also have, next week, the Arizonas, you’re hosting them. You split last time on the road, hopefully that means you can sweep at home, but USC on the road to end the season. But it is definitely winding down, Pac-12 play, regular season. Pac-12 tournament is going to be really important. This team, I think, is kind of past the point where they can make the NCAA tournament, just because of those losses to Fullerton, Hofstra. UNC ended up being a really bad loss. But still, if this team can run the table, then I think they make a case for themselves, if not as a tournament team, then as a solid team with a lot of growth across the season. So that’s pretty much it for UCLA men’s basketball, they’ll be on the road starting Thursday. And that takes us to UCLA women’s basketball, which last Friday, lost to Oregon. They kind of started putting up a fight at the end of it, but in the middle, it was starting to look like a block for a bit. But then they come back with a nice third-quarter comeback against Oregon State and winning that one in overtime. Jacqueline, I know you were there for both games. What were the kind of biggest moments, like the biggest things you took away from those two games?
JD: Yeah, so I guess Oregon, which is the No. 3 team in the country, by the way, and has a lot of the best players in the country. I think they have, like, three players on the finalists list for the John Wooden Award. And they went up 22-8 in the first quarter. And so UCLA actually did outscore Oregon in the second half, but they were just in so deep that it just wasn’t going to happen. I think the biggest difference from Friday to Monday was Charisma Osborne, who, she went 0-of-8 from 3 and 3-of-14 from the field against Oregon on Friday, and then came back and had a career-high 22 points on Monday. So her putting up points for the Bruins was really big because they need that other scorer in addition to Michaela Onyenwere and Japreece Dean.
SC: Yeah, I think Charisma definitely contributed against Oregon State really well, I agree. Kiara Jefferson, though, only had five points against Oregon State, but those were really important points. She had the three that like finally gave them the lead, or at least made a close game. Because it was a, UCLA was down, but then Oregon State kind of started to pull away with it; it was a 14-point game. Then all of a sudden, UCLA start hitting their 3s. And because of Kiara, because of Charisma, that definitely came to fruition a little bit. That was definitely really nice.
JD: Yeah, coach Cori Close after the game was so happy about Jefferson. She said she pulled her in the locker room after and was just saying thank you for, you know, being willing to come in, not necessarily playing a lot, but coming in and stepping up when you do. And you’re right, that was like part of the third quarter they scored, I think, 27 points which was more than they scored in the first half. So that quarter was definitely, like, a big turnaround. It was also Japreece Dean. She logged a career-high 12 assists, which is kind of insane in that game, and she also hit 22 points to help scoring.
SC: Yeah, I think hearing what Cori said about Kiara that’s definitely really interesting because the main thing this team has going for it is its depth and like Cori’s ability to kind of mix up lineups and use different players down the stretch depending on the game. And you had Natalie Chou, who was super important against USC and that overtime game, hitting the buzzer beater and everything. But then against Oregon State, which was a close game, ended up going to overtime, she didn’t play too much in the fourth quarter or overtime, maybe only had one shift in there. But Kiara was playing more than usual, so it’s definitely interesting to to see her kind of play around with lineups in these close games. I don’t know, Ryan, what do you think about this team’s depth and how it could help it moving into the postseason?
RS: This team has a lot of depth and I think anytime you have that, it’s going to work in your favor, obviously. Cori’s never really been one to dig too far into her bench as long as I’ve been here, but you know, against the team that’s as good as Oregon or another powerhouse, It’s just good to have that healthy rotation, keep your players fresh. You don’t want Michaela to have to play, you know, 38 minutes. It’d be nice if, you know, you can play 32, 33, she’s fresh. And anytime you have that, that’s a good thing.
SC: Yeah, I think coach Cori has really been managing your lineups really well, managing your rotations. It’s been good. Only four games left in the regular season here for UCLA women’s basketball. Pac-12 tournament is coming up in Vegas. Jacqueline, I know you’re going to that, you looking forward to it?
JD: I’m so looking forward to it, Sam.
SC: Awesome. First time in Vegas?
JD: Yes, it is my first time in Vegas. I’m a little scared but really excited.
SC: Nice, good to know. And UCLA women’s basketball, they’ll play on the road Friday at Washington State and then yeah, that’s about all we have on them. UCLA beach volleyball, they start this weekend, though. Jacqueline, I know you were on the beat last year, really invested in the team, you went to the national championships in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Can you talk about kind of what the expectations are for the team this season after, you know, losing a few players but still being reigning champs?
JD: Yeah, it’s kind of a loaded question because anytime a team wins back-to-back national championships, like the bar is there, but also how realistic is it to win three in a row? I don’t really know. In beach volleyball, maybe it’s more realistic than other sports just because it is a relatively new sport, the national championship only started five, six years ago. So I think the bar is high. They’ve got a really good recruiting class of freshmen, so they’ve got three coming in. And they also just announced the signing of a graduate transfer, who’s good, but they did graduate five seniors last year, all of whom started almost every single match. So you basically have half a lineup that needs to be filled with underclassmen coming in.
SC: And I don’t know what Stein did last year with kind of like rotating what pairs of playing which courts, but do you think it’s kind of going to be an adjustment period with a lot of new players here at the beginning, like a lot more experimenting than usual?
JD: Yeah, I think so. As much as he did rotate last year, it was mainly the bottom two to three courts, whereas the McNamara twins – who just graduated and now they’re doing one of the qualifications for Team Canada – they’ve been the court one pair since their freshman year. So that’s four years of not having to worry about finding anyone new for court one. And then same with Sarah Sponcil and Lily Justine, who were the court two pair every game. So basically, you have 1 1/2 spots there because Sarah graduated. So that’s going to be really interesting to see if you move someone up with Lily on court one, maybe Savvy Simo or Abby Van Winkle, who were both on courts three and four. Or if he’s going to bring up the freshman pair from, I think Florida, that played together in high school and just have them kind of establish themselves in that court one position going for the next four years, similarly to how he did it with the twins.
SC: OK, and who would you say would be the one person or pair that you think is kind of going to be the breakout this year, the breakout stars?
JD: It’s hard to say because I haven’t seen any of the freshmen play, I’m hoping one of the freshman pairs is really good. I also think Lily Justine, again, holding down that two spot with Sarah last year, if she can maybe team up with Savvy Simo, I think they’d be a very, very solid pair. And then you also have Megan Muret, who played in the national championship two years ago, but kind of got ousted from the lineup last year. She could come back in and be really big as a junior this year.
SC: All right, good to know. What’s their schedule looking like for this weekend?
JD: They’re playing Thursday, they’re hosting LMU, that’s going to be at Mapes Beach, which is their brand new courts at Sunset Rec. So if you haven’t seen those, you should go check them out. Before they had only had two courts, so every match took three flights basically, and now they have three courts so they can play only two flights, which is very exciting. But other than that, they will also be hosting the Pac-12 championship down the stretch, so that’s gonna be in April. But that’ll be cool for people to be able to come out to Sunset and enjoy that.
SC: Yeah, it’s definitely gonna be an interesting season this year. We got a good team of writers on there, we got Michael Waldman, Zoe Willoughby, Lexi Grimes on the beat, looking forward to the coverage they do this season. Yeah, it all starts this week. And then this is normally where we’d have the user-submitted questions part, the Q&A part, but I forgot to ask for more last week, so that’s on me. Nothing this week on that front, but if you’re listening, please send in your questions for next week’s show. You can send them in whenever, you can tweet them at myself, @SamConnonDB, or Ryan, @RyanSmithDB. You can email any of us, find any of our contact info. We’re happy to answer anything UCLA sports. But then just before we wrap up here, I want to touch a little bit on UCLA baseball, who started with a sweep over Riverside this weekend. And at the time we’re recording for this – we’re recording Tuesday morning – they have another game against LMU tonight, so we’ll see how that goes. They went undefeated in Tuesday games last year, so if things carry over then maybe they’ll pull this one out. I know Friday was a little bit close for comfort, they were down for a bit, Zach Pettway started off hot, but then allowed a home run that kind of put them back down 2-0, wasn’t great. But I don’t know, what did you guys think of the baseball team this weekend – if you watched any of it or followed any of it – anyone stand out to you guys?
JD: I did not watch any of the games.
SC: Oh, no.
JD: But I think that on Friday, there was a freshman who batted in the winning run. I believe his name is JT Schwartz. And so that’s pretty cool if you already have some freshmen coming up big in clutch situations. Complete gamble here.
SC: Pretty sure he’s a redshirt but.
JD: Yeah, he is a redshirt freshman.
SC: OK, yeah.
JD: Second baseman? First, yeah?
SC: Yeah, JT Schwartz, he’s a redshirt freshman. Definitely was a surprise because he did not do much at all last year because, I mean, he redshirted wasn’t really on the field a lot. But I mean, there’s a lot of new faces in the lineup, which is definitely be fun to watch. Ryan, I know you’ll make it out to some baseball games eventually, right?
RS: I will, 100%.
SC: Yeah, so I think the one of the bigger standouts is Matt McLain. He came in last year, he was a starter right off the bat because he was a first round pick in the MLB Draft coming out of high school, picked UCLA over the D-Backs. Didn’t have the greatest year last year, kind of moving around the field, and I think this year is really going to settle in. He, I think, went seven hits on 12 bats this weekend, two home runs, already showing that he has a lot more power than he did last year, more consistency, so I’m looking forward to that. And it was Jared Tay, assistant Sports editor, and Taiyo Keilin, they were covering the games this weekend, and then they got Will Foote and Marcus Veal on the beat too, so keep an eye out for them, follow them on Twitter. We’re gonna have a lot of good coverage this year, I’m going to try to make it out to as many games I can. But yeah, that’s about it on the UCLA baseball front.
JD: Can I submit a user question?
SC: Yes, Jacqueline, you can, go ahead.
JD: Great. OK, so in the beginning of the season, Jack Perez, another assistant Sports editor, had a hot take that UCLA men’s basketball would win the Pac-12 tournament. Do we think that the men’s team or the women’s team has a better chance of winning the tournament?
SC: Ryan, you go first.
RS: OK, so I have an answer for this question. And before I say my answer to this question, I will say that the UCLA women’s basketball team has a much better chance of winning the national championship. But I think the men’s team actually has a better chance of winning the Pac-12 championship because Oregon just seems to be the thorn in the side for women’s basketball. They just can’t seem to get over that hump. They’ve lost six out of seven to that school over the last three seasons. And the men’s team, there really isn’t anyone in the Pac-12 that should scare them if they’re playing the way they have been playing.
SC: Jacqueline, you were nodding in agreement. I’m curious to see your take on this.
JD: I agree. Because in the beginning when Jack wrote that, I was appalled that he would say something like that, because at the time the Bruins were doing horribly in nonconference play, like so bad. And now I kind of think he might be right. And I’m stressed.
SC: Jacqueline, can you – that prediction by Jack was made in a Battle of the Editors, it’s kind of like a column-style blurb kind of thing that we do at Daily Bruin. Jacqueline, can you remind us what what your prediction was?
JD: Women’s basketball would go undefeated in Pac-12 play.
SC: Undefeated, wouldn’t that be something? I guess they only have two losses, right? Two or three? They have three losses, so, you know.
JD: It was a hot take.
SC: Yeah, it was hot takes only. We’re OK with that, I just wanted full transparency.
JD: I’m here admitting I’m wrong, you didn’t have to attack me like that.
SC: I know, I was just getting your take.
JD: Sam, what do you think, Mr. Sports editor?
SC: I would say that, I’ll disagree with you guys just for the sake of disagreeing because women’s basketball is the better team, like Ryan said, probably has a better chance at a national championship. It’ll definitely be hard, it’s not like they’re favorites for a national championship but, I mean, they beat Stanford a few weeks ago, they beat Oregon on the road last season. So they have been a thorn in the side, like you were saying, Ryan, but at the same time, it’s not impossible. It is really dependent on seeding. Like, if they end up getting the No. 4 seed and they have to go through Stanford and Oregon in order to win the Pac-12 tournament, I think that’s where they’re kind of going to be ruled out. Yeah, generally, I think they’re more talented team – or at least in the context of their own conference – than the men’s basketball. Men’s basketball has won seven out of nine, they’re really hot right now. And I think when you’re a defensive team, like they are, neutral-site games are pretty good, it’s not going to hurt you too much. But at the same time, I think that Oregon men’s basketball is basically unbeatable. Not from any other team, but just I don’t think UCLA can beat Oregon. Any other team, I think UCLA has a pretty good chance, but I would say that women’s basketball has a better chance to beat Oregon or Stanford than men’s basketball does to beat Oregon. So it all depends on seeding for both teams.
RS: I will say this, too, about the women’s team. If you want to ignore a recent history with their matchups against Oregon, I mean, if you watch the game last week, you know. Oregon shot the lights out for the first three quarters. And UCLA couldn’t buy an open basket. So I mean, if you watched it and saw how it all played out, that was a game UCLA could have stolen. I mean, it ended 80-66, so that doesn’t look great on the scoreboard, but it is a game they could have stolen and, you know, if they can clean it up, Oregon’s definitely a team they can beat. But again, recent history just tells us to be scared of that.
SC: Yep, understandable. Well, we’ll see. Both teams will be making trips to Vegas in a couple of weeks, definitely an interesting time. The end the quarter here at UCLA, a lot of people being pretty busy, but you should definitely watch both those teams on their postseason trips, because it’ll definitely be interesting to watch. So that’ll be just about it for episode four of “Out of Bounds.” Jacqueline, thanks for coming on.
JD: Thank you for having me, Sam. It’s such an honor to be here.
SC: Wow, it means a lot. Ryan, thanks again for coming.
SC: Yeah, so that’s about it. Make sure you send in any user-submitted questions. Find Ryan or I or Daily Bruin Sports or Jacqueline anywhere, send those in if you can. And then thanks again to Omar Said, who’s the podcasts editor at the Daily Bruin, for helping us get this all turned out this week, past few weeks. It’s been an interesting process, him helping us out, it’s been good, so thanks for listening and see you next week.