Men’s basketball prepares for Arizona road trip following postponements, injuries
Redshirt junior forward Cody Riley has started all nine games for the Bruins in the 2020-2021 season. UCLA men’s basketball begins a two-game set against the Arizona schools Thursday. (David Rimer/Daily Bruin staff)
Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, 6 p.m.
By Jack Perez
Jan. 7, 2021 1:24 p.m.
The Bruins will again try to begin their road conference games.
UCLA men’s basketball (7-2, 3-0 Pac-12) is headed to the Grand Canyon State to face Arizona State (4-3, 1-0) and Arizona (9-1, 3-1) on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. The Bruins were scheduled to play a Pac-12 matchup at Oregon on Dec. 23, but the game was postponed because of a positive COVID-19 test from a game official.
The Sun Devils have also dealt with pandemic protocols, and the team has not played since Dec. 16, with three straight conference games being postponed.
Redshirt junior forward Cody Riley said he does not know what to expect from Arizona State, but UCLA is working on itself heading into the next slate of contests.
“We’re kind of just sticking with what they’ve done earlier in the season and sticking with the habits that they had last year, as far as scouting,” Riley said. “Again, just focusing on us and making sure that we’re there defensively. That’s about it.”
In last year’s matchups versus the Wildcats and Sun Devils on the road, the Bruins split the two games, winning over Arizona 65-52 two days after falling 84-66 to Arizona State.
While redshirt junior forward/center Jalen Hill sat out one of the games last year because of an injury, Riley said last year’s results have no bearing on anything this time around.
“We haven’t focused too much on that,” Riley said. “We know their players, we know their starting lineup and we focus on the guys they have, really. So we don’t pay any attention to that, we’re really focused on the game that’s coming up right now.”
UCLA will be without a different starter this time around, as senior guard Chris Smith is out for the season with a torn ACL sustained during the Dec. 31 game against Utah. Smith finished last year’s games in Tempe and Tuscon with a combined 24 points and 13 rebounds.
Coach Mick Cronin said his team has players who can make up for Smith’s scoring, but other intangibles in his game will be hard to come by.
“I think where it affects us the most and (what) I’m most concerned with is his length,” Cronin said. “(Smith) obviously had great size for a wing. I’m worried mostly about losing his length defensively and his rebounding. I think what (freshman guard) Jaylen Clark (gives) us — I know what he can give us — is defensive toughness and athleticism on the glass, so we worked the last couple of days to where we’d slide (sophomore guard/forward) Jaime (Jaquez Jr.) over to (Smith’s) spot and bring Jaylen Clark into (Jaquez’s) spot.”
The Bruins might have struggled more last year if Smith had been hurt, as the then-junior was the only player on Cronin’s roster to average over 10 points per game in the 2019-2020 season. This year, UCLA has four players other than Smith who are scoring in double digits.
In UCLA’s first game without Smith, six Bruins scored at least eight points, and Cronin’s squad left Pauley Pavilion with a win. Four Bruins played at least 33 minutes in that game, but junior guard Jules Bernard said he believes the team will not succumb to fatigue even while making up for Smith’s lost minutes.
“I think we all play pretty big minutes,” Bernard said. “But just practicing every day, the way we practice, I think prepares us for playing those type of minutes. We play, we practice hard for a while. And especially in the preseason, we practiced hard for two to three hours, so we’re sort of used to that workload.”