UCLA men’s basketball to face familiar foes in conference opener
Senior guard David Singleton dribbles down the court in a game against CSU Bakersfield. Singleton and No. 5 UCLA men’s basketball will take on Colorado on Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)
Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.
By Jared Tay
Dec. 1, 2021 2:43 p.m.
David Singleton said he still remembers the first time he saw his childhood friend Evan Battey after the Buffaloes’ forward returned to basketball following a stroke nearly four years ago.
“I gave him a big hug,” Singleton said, recalling a moment the two shared at a tournament during the summer of Battey’s recovery in 2018. “I almost cried. I hugged him, and I was just saying, ‘I’m proud of him.’”
The Bruins’ senior guard and Battey went to the same elementary school in the Southern California area and played in the same high school tournaments. Together, Singleton said they dreamed of playing Division I college basketball.
“That’s really my best friend since diapers,” Singleton said.
Now veterans of their respective teams, the two friends will play on the same court once again, as No. 5 UCLA men’s basketball (6-1) will face Colorado (6-1, 1-0 Pac-12) in the Bruins’ conference opener at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday night.
The leading scorer of Colorado’s returners, Battey is part of a Buffaloes’ frontcourt, whose size coach Mick Cronin said will be a cause for concern for the Bruins.
“They’re bigger than us at almost every position,” Cronin said. “They do a great job of attacking the basket, putting pressure on the rim and offensive rebounding. They’re going to run their offense, execute and get the ball at the rim on you.”
Battey, who stands at 6 feet, 8 inches, scored a career-high 22 points in Colorado’s win over Stanford on Sunday. The 6-foot-9 forward Jabari Walker notched a team-high 13 rebounds. Another 6-foot-9 forward, Tristan da Silva, was the team’s second leading-scorer while he logged four assists to go along with his 13 points.
Without redshirt senior forward Cody Riley and redshirt freshman forward Mac Etienne, who are both sidelined with knee injuries, the tallest Bruins available for Wednesday’s contest will be redshirt senior center Myles Johnson and redshirt junior forward/center Kenneth Nwuba.
Nwuba has seen a sharp increase in minutes this season, seeing game action in all of the Bruins’ contests so far after averaging 5.9 minutes last season.
This season, Johnson has started every game after Riley went down in UCLA’s season opener. Defensively, he has tallied at least two blocks in all but one game and is the team’s second-leading rebounder.
Johnson’s own teammates, though, have occasionally been on the receiving end of the big man’s physical presence down low. Both junior guard/forwards Jake Kyman and Jaime Jaquez Jr. have received accidental elbows to the face from Johnson, with Jaquez being knocked to the floor Saturday when UCLA faced UNLV.
Jaquez needed five stitches to stop the bleeding and missed the first minute of the second half but said otherwise, he’s ready to play.
“(Kyman) told me to watch out,” Jaquez said. “It’s kind of hard though. (Johnson)’s a big guy.”
On guarding Battey specifically, Jaquez said the Bruins may plan to start Johnson on the Buffaloes’ forward but added that the flow of the game would play a deciding factor in defensive assignments.
Cronin said those game-flow decisions could be centered around foul trouble, adding that he was concerned about his team defensively matching up with larger players. Colorado was ranked No. 2 in the nation in free-throw percentage last season and made 19 of 26 free throws against Stanford on Sunday.
However, the Buffaloes will be without their leading scorer from last season. Guard McKinley Wright IV departed to the NBA, leaving guard Keeshawn Barthelemy running the point.
“It’s an adjustment when you lose a guy that dominates the ball as much as McKinley dominated the ball in his career there,” Cronin said. “But I like Barthelemey, he’s a good player, can make open shots (and) he’s only going to get better.”
Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m., and the game will air on Pac-12 Networks.