If Tuesday night’s matchup against Mississippi State was a get-right game, then Saturday’s battle with the UCLA Bruins is a get revenge game. That’s what’s next on the docket for the No. 25 Cincinnati Bearcats, who are in Los Angeles to take on the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion.
Who Are the UCLA Bruins?
Do I remember the Bruins? Let me think. Do I remember UC coming up short against the No. 3 seed Bruins in the second round of the NCAA Tournament just 289 days ago? Yes. Yes I do.
That’s right, this is the same UCLA program that ended UC’s 2016-17 campaign. Well not exactly the same, since Lonzo Ball (perhaps you’ve heard of him) is now in the NBA, but the Bruins are still led by Steve Alford and still a talented basketball team.
Unfortunately, the biggest story of the season for them so far has been Lonzo’s brother LiAngelo’s legal issues in China and departure from the team. But the actual basketball has been pretty good as well. They are 7-2 overall, with losses to Creighton and Michigan the only two stains on their record. The setback against Michigan, which took overtime, happened most recently, as the 78-69 final score was achieved this past Saturday.
In that game, Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh played well, but the rest of the team struggled to score. Holiday finished with 27 points and seven assists, but did turn the ball over seven times as well. Welsh grabbed 10 rebounds to go with 22 points. The Bruins shot just 43.9 percent from the floor and 4-for-18 from beyond the arc while turning the ball over 20 times.
UC can expect more proficient offensive work on Saturday. UCLA is scoring 84.8 points per game and is ranked No. 42 in the country in adjusted offense. The Bearcats can also expect to have plenty of trouble from Holiday (17.7 PPG, 5.7 APG) and Welsh (13.6 PPG, 10.8 RPG), even if the two combined for only 16 points when the two teams met up last season.
Speaking of that contest, UC also has to put together two strong halves, which it failed to do last season. Despite leading 33-30 at halftime, the Bearcats allowed the Bruins to shoot 63.3 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes en route to a 79-67 loss.
We Need More Evans and Clark
When the Bearcats clashed with the Bruins last spring, Evans played pretty well, scoring 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting. He also tied with Troy Caupain for the most minutes played (38) by a Bearcat. Gary Clark also had a pretty good game, scoring 11 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists. Those are both fine efforts. The Bearcats just need more than fine, especially from two players who will play close to 40 minutes.
Evans did more against Mississippi State this past Tuesday when he scored a season-high 24 points and added eight rebounds and three blocks. Clark has been consistently excellent, but he only had six field goal attempts against the Bulldogs. Clark and Evans are No. 1 and No. 2 on the Bearcats in PER. This team will only go as high as they can take them, so both need to be assertive and do more than they did last year when they combined to take 14 shots against the Bruins.
Evans and Clark just need to improve on decent performances. Kyle Washington needs to completely reverse his previous work against the Bruins. He was held to four points on 2-of-10 shooting against them last season. He has had similar showings in a few games already this season, including the last true road test against Xavier when he did not score a single point. UC is a much better team when Washington is scoring effectively, obviously, so to notch this important road win, he’ll need to avoid another cold offensive outing.
UCLA is not as good as it was last year, but that doesn’t mean this is a bad team. The Bruins play at a pretty swift pace, ranking 20th in the country in adjusted tempo. The Bearcats must slow things down to keep their hosts uncomfortable. They have the skill to do it, but executing will be difficult, especially if Holiday gets cooking. If UCLA controls the pace then it will be on Evans and Jarron Cumberland to shoot effectively, while complimentary scorers like Keith Williams and Washington need to be at their best.
Cincinnati 76 UCLA 72