Men’s basketball clinches narrow win over Washington after trailing by 10 at half
Junior guard Jules Bernard scored a team-high 20 points and tied his career-high with four 3-pointers as UCLA men’s basketball defeated Washington, despite the Bruins trailing by double digits at halftime. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin)
By Sam Connon
Jan. 16, 2021 4:28 p.m.
This post was updated Jan. 26 at 8:53 p.m.
It took a comeback effort, but the Bruins still managed to handle the Huskies at home.
UCLA men’s basketball (11-2, 7-0 Pac-12) used an early second-half surge and late-game free throws to stave off an upset bid by last-place Washington (1-11, 0-7), extending its winning streak to six games in an 81-76 victory Saturday afternoon. The battle between the conference’s only winless team and only undefeated team was certainly one-sided to start but not in the way the teams’ records would suggest.
The Bruins went down 12-4 out of the gates and trailed 39-27 at one point. They were able to close the gap to 39-29 before the half but still ended the period shooting 31.3% from the field compared to the Huskies’ 53.3% clip.
“It was good to see us end up with a win because it easily could’ve went the other way,” said redshirt junior forward Cody Riley. “We know that next time we step on the court, we can’t afford to play like that in the first half and get down and let teams get going.”
Junior guard Jules Bernard played all but one minute in the opening frame, and he said the team’s lack of effort on the defensive end was the focus heading into the locker room.
“We were disappointed with our effort throughout – the coaches and the players,” Bernard said. “Coach got into us, but we’re all players who can take yelling and take the coach getting into us. It kind of fuels us coming into the second half.”
The Pac-12’s leading assist man, redshirt sophomore guard Tyger Campbell, had three points and one assist in the first half to go along with a -17 plus/minus, slightly worse than Riley’s -14 plus/minus in the period.
“We’re not a good team unless (Campbell’s) playing well,” said coach Mick Cronin. “I thought the more he started to compete and realize the game had started, we were going to lose if he didn’t play.”
Cronin got his wish after halftime, and it wasn’t just Campbell who stepped things up.
A 10-0 UCLA run to open the half tied things up, and a fastbreak dunk by sophomore guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. later in the half put the Bruins up by seven with 8:28 left on the clock.
Staging a comeback wouldn’t be that simple, however, as the Huskies bounced back and made it a game again – there were four lead changes and three ties in the next five minutes, and Washington held a one-point lead with 3:32 to play.
The next two minutes were all UCLA, with Riley’s layup through contact giving the Bruins the lead, back-to-back jumpers by Campbell extending that lead and a slam dunk by Jaquez capping off the 8-0 run.
“It felt good to know we got that,” Jaquez said. “When I’m playing, I don’t really check up at the score too much. I kind of do that when I’m on the bench, so I didn’t even know that was an 8-0 run. But I’m glad that happened. I’m glad we could get some energy.”
Four straight points by Washington 7-footer Riley Sorn made it a one-possession game with less than a minute to play, but freshman guard Jaylen Clark and Bernard hit all of their free throws down the stretch to close out the victory.
The dagger free throws by Bernard with six seconds left on the clock weren’t his only important points of the half – he sparked the Bruins’ run that opened the second half.
After UCLA closed the opening period hitting two of its last 10 field goal attempts, Bernard opened the second with a 3-pointer on the wing and a fastbreak layup. All of a sudden, a double-digit deficit had turned into a two-possession game thanks to Bernard’s hot start out of the locker room.
Bernard finished the game as the Bruins’ leading scorer with 20 points – tying his regulation career-high – and he did so with efficiency as well, shooting 6-of-13 from the field, 4-of-7 from deep and 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. Bernard also played the final seven minutes of the game with four fouls, yet he still finished the day with a team-best +11 plus/minus.
After tying career highs in 3-point attempts and makes, Bernard said he was able to see the floor well and fully take advantage of the Huskies’ zone defense.
“I knew that whenever we got the ball to the middle and they were going to kick it out, I had to be ready to shoot,” Bernard said. “We know it’s tough to rebound out of a zone, so if we get those open looks up, there’s a good opportunity that we get offensive boards.”
The Bruins ended up winning the battle of the offensive boards 15-4, converting them into 15 second-chance points.
Bernard was only outscored by Washington guard Quade Green, who dropped 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting.
Green’s scoring wasn’t enough to upset the first-place Bruins, however, and UCLA has now opened conference play 7-0 for the first time since 1993-1994.
“Right now, it doesn’t really matter – it’s at the end of the season what counts,” Riley said. “We want to keep the ball rolling on course, but we can’t get lackadaisical and feed into the energy of people saying that we’re good or we’re bad or their opinions in general.”
The Bruins haven’t started 8-0 in the Pac-12 since 1982-1983, and they’ll have a chance to match that when they head up to Berkeley for a road game Thursday night.