UCLA men’s basketball to host top-5 matchup against Villanova
Coach Mick Cronin mans the sidelines in No. 2 UCLA men’s basketball’s victory over CSU Bakersfield on Tuesday. Cronin will be facing off against a top-five team for the first time in his Bruin tenure when UCLA takes on No. 4 Villanova on Friday. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)
No. 4 Villanova
Friday, 8:30 p.m.
By Jared Tay
Nov. 11, 2021 3:01 a.m.
Tyus Edney’s game-winning shot to save UCLA’s 1995 title run and Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer to win the 2016 National Championship for Villanova.
Those two plays, among many, are timeless moments in March Madness history. They have been integral plays to each school’s national championship tally.
March is still over four months away. But four days into the regular season, a matchup of these blue bloods – the likes of which are usually featured in the final rounds of the Big Dance – is coming to Pauley Pavilion.
As part of a nonconference schedule that will see the Bruins face off against three opponents currently ranked in the top 25, No. 2 UCLA men’s basketball (1-0) will host No. 4 Villanova (1-0) on Friday. Aside from a date with No. 1 Gonzaga on Nov. 23, Villanova is set to be the highest-ranked squad that UCLA faces through its nonconference slate.
“I know we’ve got a big crowd planned for Friday night,” said coach Mick Cronin. “We’re going to need it.”
The Bruins haven’t hosted a top-five team in Westwood since the 2016-2017 season, when UCLA hosted then-No. 5 Oregon in a February conference game.
UCLA has not hosted a nonconference matchup against a top-five opponent since it welcomed then-No.1 Kentucky to Southern California in December 2015.
“(The) energy has been great around here,” said junior guard Johnny Juzang. “I’m sure it’s going to be a great turnout, and it’s going to be a fun night.”
UCLA has matched up with Villanova five times in the two schools’ history, losing its last three meetings against Friday’s opponent in 2002, 2009 and 2010. The last time the Bruins hosted the Wildcats was in 2001, when UCLA won 93-65.
Though the two schools haven’t met in over a decade, Villanova is no stranger to facing Cronin. As the coach at Cincinnati from 2006 to 2019, Cronin said he has a level of familiarity with the Villanova program from facing off with the Wildcats in conference play before Cincinnati left the conference in 2013.
“I know what their culture stands for,” Cronin said. “I understand how hard they play and how physical they are. We’ve got our work cut out for us; I can promise you that.”
Last season, Villanova tallied an 11-4 conference record, losing to Georgetown in the quarterfinal round of the Big East championship. The Wildcats earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, beating No. 12 seed Winthrop and No. 13 seed North Texas before losing to eventual champion No. 1 seed Baylor in the Sweet Sixteen.
The Wildcats are returning four of their five starters from last season, although they did lose their leading scorer in forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who started all 25 games for the team last season.
Also returning to Villanova are two veterans down low: forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, who is returning from injury last year, and forward Jermaine Samuels.
With the addition of redshirt senior center Myles Johnson, the Bruins have added size to their frontcourt in the offseason. However, UCLA will likely be without redshirt senior forward Cody Riley after he exited Tuesday’s game against CSU Bakersfield with a knee injury.
Riley was confirmed to have an MCL sprain in his left knee by a spokesperson for UCLA Athletics on Wednesday and will be unavailable for Friday’s game.
Exiting Tuesday’s game early in the first half, Riley was the only Bruin starter not to crack double-digit points against CSU Bakersfield. The other four starters combined for 62 of the Bruins’ 95 points.
“That’s just the culture of this team,” said senior guard Jules Bernard about the team’s offensive output. “Everybody can move, and we’re built to improve every day in practice. It’s amazing to see our teammates grow and take big leaps.”
The game will air on ESPN2, and tipoff is at 8:30 p.m.