UCLA men’s basketball prepares for matchup against Marquette after extended break
Senior guard Jules Bernard fakes a pass during No. 4 UCLA men’s basketball’s win over Colorado on Dec. 5. (Lauren Man/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
By Jon Christon
Dec. 10, 2021 2:00 p.m.
Nine days have passed since the Bruins last played a game.
Saturday will mark the 10th day between contests, punctuating the team’s longest break of the season – a period coach Mick Cronin said he has been able to use to his advantage.
“I’ve slept well. I’ve been able to digest food,” Cronin said. “I think rest is important.”
Cronin and No. 4 UCLA men’s basketball (7-1, 2-0 Pac-12) will return to the hardwood with a trip to Milwaukee for a matchup with Marquette (8-2) on Saturday morning. The Bruins were most recently scheduled to play Washington on Dec. 5, but the matchup was canceled because of COVID-19 protocols.
Aside from his sleep and eating habits, Cronin said the long rest has also given his team a chance to get healthy.
The blue and gold will welcome back junior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. after he left in the first half of UCLA’s victory over Colorado for precautionary reasons following a fall to the ground. Cronin said Jaquez would not have been able to play against Washington but has since been deemed a full participant in practice.
Redshirt senior forward Cody Riley – who hasn’t played in a game since Nov. 9 – also has a chance to get back to game action Saturday after doing some light practicing throughout the week.
Senior guard Jules Bernard said Riley has looked good since returning to the practice court after the forward sprained his left MCL in the Bruins’ season opener.
“He’s been looking good, definitely a lot of improvement,” Bernard said. “Every day (we’re) seeing him get more comfortable with movements, so we’re just happy that he’s able to come back. His well-being was the most important thing for us.”
Saturday’s matchup will be the second part of a home-and-home series versus Marquette, with the Bruins winning 69-60 at Pauley Pavilion last December.
However, the Golden Eagles will run out a completely new starting five from the last time the two teams faced off, with only five players from last year’s squad still on the roster. Marquette also has a new coach manning the sidelines in Shaka Smart, who made the move from Texas in the offseason.
“The good thing about nowadays (is): you get a job, you can get a bunch of transfers and have a team,” Cronin said. “It’s not probably indicative of what (Smart) wants their program to look like long-term, but he’s adjusted. He’s back to trying to pick up the pace on defense.”
With a roster consisting of four transfers and six true freshmen, Smart’s Golden Eagles are playing with the fourth-fastest tempo in the country, according to KenPom, after ranking 216th a year ago.
Bernard said the Bruins will have to be aware of Marquette’s aggressive style on both ends of the court as his team prepares for its second true road game of the campaign.
“They’re a very aggressive team both offensively and defensively,” Bernard said. “Just being able to come into (Fiserv Forum) and know that we have to play with confidence and compete because we know it’s not going to be an easy game. … We have to come and match their aggressiveness, match their intensity.”
The contest will also mark UCLA’s third-ever time traveling to Milwaukee to take on Marquette and its first time playing in Fiserv Forum, which opened in 2018.
Redshirt senior center Myles Johnson said the trip to the Midwest and into a hostile environment will force the Bruins to become a tougher team.
“(Cronin) was telling us it was going to be a sellout game and to be prepared,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a very difficult road game, but as I’ve learned over all this time, every road game is difficult, regardless of if it’s packed or not. … You just got to bring your toughness with you.”
The game will tip off at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and will be nationally televised on FOX.