UCLA men’s basketball freshmen to fill Jaylen Clark’s absence in Pac-12 tournament
Redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell (right) high-fives junior guard Jaylen Clark (left). Clark will not be a part of No. 1 seed UCLA men’s basketball’s run in the Pac-12 tournament this weekend after a lower leg injury sustained Saturday. (Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor)
By Jon Christon
March 7, 2023 6:33 p.m.
This post was updated March 7 at 11:11 p.m.
A top seed in the NCAA Tournament may be on the line for the Bruins.
The conference’s top defender, however, won’t be making the trip.
No. 1 seed UCLA men’s basketball (27-4, 18-2 Pac-12) will travel to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament this weekend. The Bruins will begin the tournament with a first-round bye before taking on the winner of No. 9 seed Colorado (16-15, 8-12) and No. 8 seed Washington (16-15, 8-12) on Thursday.
“Certain coaches hate conference tournaments,” said coach Mick Cronin. “I’m with them.”
UCLA currently slots in as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but ESPN’s Joe Lunardi said the Bruins will likely need to win the Pac-12 tournament to maintain that standing heading into Selection Sunday.
Junior guard Jaylen Clark – who was recently named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year – won’t make the trip to Las Vegas because of a lower leg injury, according to Cronin.
Cronin added that he was not authorized to share specifics about Clark’s diagnosis, and UCLA Athletics will communicate with the NCAA Tournament selection committee about the injury in the future. Clark is thought to have hurt his right leg after landing awkwardly following a layup in the Bruins’ most recent contest against Arizona on Saturday.
Without Clark in the lineup, UCLA will have to replace 13 points and 30.5 minutes per game – the second- and third-best marks on the team, respectively – and a conference-best 2.6 steals per game.
However, Cronin said he’s not asking any one player to replace Clark’s production on the stat sheet.
“(I) talked to them about, ‘We’re not concerned about your shot-making this week. … Be Jaylen Clark this week,’” Cronin said. “Do what he does.”
Cronin said he’ll be looking toward the younger Bruins to embody Clark in Vegas.
He specifically mentioned redshirt freshman guard Will McClendon, freshman guard Dylan Andrews and freshman guard/forward Abramo Canka as players who will see increased playing time in Clark’s absence.
McClendon and Andrews both averaged around 10 minutes a night in the regular season, while Canka played only 5.6 minutes per game.
Senior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. said he knows the freshmen will be ready to step up when their numbers are called.
“It’s just a next-man-up mentality,” Jaquez said. “I have trust in those guys, the rest of the team believes in them (and) Coach believes in them. They’re going to be ready for the challenge.”
Jaquez, meanwhile, is looking to turn his luck around in the gambling capital of the world.
The senior – fresh off winning Pac-12 Player of the Year – is 3-6 playing at T-Mobile Arena dating back to his freshman year, a mark that includes UCLA’s losses to Illinois and Baylor earlier this season. Jaquez and the Bruins won two games a year ago in the conference tournament but fell to Arizona in the championship game.
Redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell said the Bruins are ready to overcome their Sin City woes.
“Of course I want to go to Vegas and win,” Campbell said. “I don’t want to think about the losses in the past. Those are all behind us now.”
UCLA has a 4-0 record against its two potential opponents in the quarterfinals, Colorado and Washington, but played close games against them in its most recent matchup against each school. The Bruins beat the Huskies by nine on Feb. 2 and defeated the Buffaloes by just four on the road Feb. 26.
Should the blue and gold get to the semifinals, it will likely have a date against either No. 4 seed Oregon or No. 5 seed Washington State. A win there could set up a title-game rematch between UCLA and No. 2 seed Arizona.
However, the Bruins will have their sights set on a different sport before locking in on their opponents.
“We’re going to Topgolf tonight to have some fun in Vegas,” Cronin said. “It’s time to let it rip.”
UCLA will tip off against either Colorado or Washington at noon Thursday from T-Mobile Arena.