No. 5 UCLA opens Pac-12 play at home vs. Colorado
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Fifth-ranked UCLA will open Pac-12 Conference play on Wednesday night when it meets Colorado in Los Angeles.
The Bruins (6-1 overall) will return home from Las Vegas, where they finished 2-1 between the Empire Classic and a non-conference date at UNLV.
UCLA overcame sluggish offensive play to beat Bellarmine on Nov. 22, 75-62, but early struggles doomed the Bruins in an 83-63 loss to then-No. 1 Gonzaga the next night.
Jules Bernard's 18 points led four Bruins who scored in double figures, and UCLA rode a stout defensive effort to a 73-51 blowout of UNLV to close the week. The Bruins held the Runnin' Rebels to a single-digit number of made field-goal attempts in both halves of Saturday's win.
"It's been since last year where we've played that kind of defense," UCLA coach Mick Cronin said in his postgame press conference Saturday. "We had a couple of spirited practices (after the loss to Gonzaga), talked a lot about what it takes to be a real team (and) not relying on scoring and offense, getting back to why we got to the Final Four."
The meeting with Gonzaga was a rematch of last season's national semifinal thriller, won on a half-court buzzer-beater by the Bulldogs. UCLA's improbable run to the Final Four capped an outstanding NCAA Tournament for the Pac-12, wherein each of the conference's five teams in the field advanced at least to the Round of 32.
Colorado (6-1, 1-0) was the league's only team in the field to lose before the Sweet 16. Gone from that 23-win team, which finished third in the regular-season standings and reached the Pac-12 Tournament title game, is standout guard McKinley Wright IV.
Returning starter Evan Battey and Wright's back-up a season ago, Keeshawn Barthelemy, have picked up the slack, with each averaging more than 14 points per game.
Battey scored 22 points in Colorado's conference-opening win over Stanford on Sunday, 80-76. The win marked the Buffs' fourth by a single-digit-point margin on the young season, and the fifth game decided by less than 10 points.
"Another hard-fought win that went down the wire," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said in his postgame press conference. "It was closer than it probably needed to be."
Conversely for UCLA, all but its 86-77 overtime win over Villanova on Nov. 12 have been by double-digit point margins.
"It gives us confidence," Colorado's Boyle said of the numerous close games. "We talked about it at the four-minute media timeout. The score was tied. It's like, 'Guys, we've been here before in five or six games, we've been in this situation.'... With each close game you win, you become a little bit more confident down the stretch."
Last season's meetings between the Buffs and Bruins were decided by nine points in Colorado and by three points in Los Angeles. All five UCLA starters scored in double figures in the home contest, and all but Cody Riley, who suffered a sprained knee in the season-opening blowout of Cal State Bakersfield this year, are scoring at least 11.4 points per game.
Johnny Juzang sets the pace at 17.4 points per game, Jaime Jaquez Jr. is averaging 15.6, Bernard is at 14.6, and Campbell adds 11.4 per game.
--Field Level Media
Updated November 30, 2021