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UCLA men’s basketball to host Oregon State, Oregon following rivalry win

Freshman forward Devin Williams rises for a dunk during pregame warmups ahead of last Saturday’s game against USC. (Brandon Morquecho/Assistant Photo editor)

Men's basketball


Oregon State
Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

Pauley Pavilion
Pac-12 Networks
Oregon
Saturday, 7:00 p.m.

Pauley Pavilion
ESPN2

By Lauryn Olina Wang

Feb. 1, 2024 2:42 p.m.

Scoring defense has not posed a problem for the young Bruin squad this season.

In fact, its innate ability compared to a stalling offensive production came as a surprise to some.

“We’re (ranked) in the 60s (according to KenPom) on offense, and our defense is 14. I would’ve thought it would be different because usually defense is harder to teach,” said associate head coach Darren Savino on Nov. 28. “Our offense is going to get better as our execution gets better, our passing gets better.”

The Bruins went on to lose eight of their next 10 games.

But with just under half of the Pac-12 slate complete and the miracle of a March Madness berth peering from the periphery if it wins out, UCLA men’s basketball (9-11, 4-5 Pac-12) is set to host Oregon State (11-9, 3-6) and Oregon (14-6, 6-3) at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday and Saturday night, respectively. The Bruins have shot at a .442 clip in their last four games – winning three – and made one fewer 3-pointer total in that span than in the seven games prior.

“We’ve been playing good for a couple weeks now,” said coach Mick Cronin. “We should be sitting on four in a row.”

In a four-game losing skid starting with its loss to Oregon on Dec. 30, the Bruins did not score more than 60 points or log a 3-point percentage over .231 in each dropped decision.

But as Savino alluded to, better passing has increased the Bruins’ offensive production as of late. UCLA is averaging 14.8 assists in its past four games, a marked increase from its 9.33 average in the nine games prior where it lost all but one.

Sophomore guard Dylan Andrews paces the Bruins in assists as the primary signal-caller and is continuing to work through a season characterized by transition. Andrews did not start a single game prior to this year, learning from former point guard Tyger Campbell, who was in his fifth year with the program.

“Dylan’s effort to become a full-time point guard at the high level is not an easy thing,” Cronin said. “Most of the guys you’re playing against are in their fifth year, fourth year, and they have a hundred starts under their belt – you come into the year with nothing, it’s been a process for him. But I know this: The better your point guard plays, the better your offense is going to look.”

Extra passes helped the Bruins capitalize from deep at the Galen Center, leading to their highest 3-point shooting clip since their road bout with the Beavers.

Andrews boiled it down to the mental aspects of succeeding in the college game and said he is focused on approaching his progress day by day.

“My confidence, just coming into the game more prepared, being in the gym late nights and knowing that my teammates and coaches trust me to make the right decisions,” Andrews said. “I feel like I’m getting one percent better every day.”

Freshman forward Devin Williams was another key contributor in UCLA’s crosstown victory, posting four points while nabbing a block and an offensive rebound in his career-high eight minutes on the floor.

Williams said embodying Cronin’s messaging of getting better every day involves blocking out the noise and prioritizing what he can control.

“Staying poised, staying confident always, so whenever my number is called, I’ll be ready,” Williams said. “You can’t control making every shot, you can’t control someone making a tough one, but you can control grabbing every rebound, you can control diving on the floor, you can control block shots.”

The rookie’s eight minutes, paired with freshman center Aday Mara’s four rebounds and two points in five minutes of play, provided a pivotal spark for UCLA’s offense. Minutes from players like Williams have also been helped Cronin manage midseason injuries.

Freshman forward Berke Buyuktuncel is nursing a left hand injury that prevented him from playing against USC, freshman guard Sebastian Mack is dealing with a toe injury and is sitting in practice, and junior guard Lazar Stefanovic is on a minutes restriction in practice due to a foot injury.

The status of the three Bruins has not been released ahead of Thursday’s contest against Oregon State. Nonetheless, UCLA will attempt to claw its way to a March Madness-worthy record or risk missing the tournament for the first time since 2019.

“When you’re coaching at UCLA, it’s not the year you want to have,” Cronin said. “But it’s a long way from over.”

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Lauryn Olina Wang | Sports senior staff
Wang is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women’s basketball, men’s basketball, NIL and football beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women’s basketball, men’s soccer, men’s golf and track and field beats, reporter on the women’s basketball beat and contributor on the men’s and women’s golf beats. Wang is also a fourth-year history major and community engagement and social change minor.
Wang is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women’s basketball, men’s basketball, NIL and football beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women’s basketball, men’s soccer, men’s golf and track and field beats, reporter on the women’s basketball beat and contributor on the men’s and women’s golf beats. Wang is also a fourth-year history major and community engagement and social change minor.
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