No. 4 UCLA looks for better start vs. lowly Cal
Having survived a scare from a Northern California visitor on Thursday, fourth-ranked UCLA must deal with another upset-starved rival when Cal comes to town for a Pac-12 Conference matchup on Saturday night in Los Angeles.
A duel of the conference's first- and last-place teams might appear lopsided on paper, but the Bruins (22-4, 13-2 Pac-12) found themselves trailing Thursday in the second half of a meeting with 10th-place Stanford.
UCLA needed a clutch late 3-pointer from seldom-used freshman Will McClendon to repel the Cardinal en route to a 73-64 win that extended the Bruins' winning streak to five.
UCLA has beaten Cal 10 consecutive times, including 81-57 in their last meeting in Los Angeles in January 2022.
But the Golden Bears (3-23, 2-13) have had more than their fair share of upsets over the Bruins in the history of the rivalry, however, including a 76-69 home win over a fourth-ranked UCLA team in March 2007.
Bruins coach Mick Cronin promises his guys will be better prepared for Cal than they were for Stanford.
"Our attitude was way too casual. We were overconfident. We weren't ready for the fight," he said after Thursday's win. "We failed as a coaching staff tonight. We didn't have them ready. We were not humble tonight."
Jaime Jaquez Jr. put up the biggest numbers for the Bruins with 26 points and nine rebounds, but UCLA might not have avoided the upset if not for McClendon.
The freshman from Las Vegas entered the game having made just one 3-pointer all season in 14 tries, then missed his first two attempts against the Cardinal.
But with his team up just 60-59 with 3:39 remaining, he nailed the biggest shot of his career, extending the lead to four and triggering a strong UCLA finish.
"It was amazing to see Will and (fellow freshman) Dylan (Andrews, who had three points and two assists in 13 minutes), guys coming off the bench making big plays for us," Cronin gushed. "Those are strides we need to make on offense. We need the whole team. For those guys to step up big in games like this really shows the depth of our team and how great we can be."
Cal would be easy to overlook. The Golden Bears have lost 10 in a row, and with an 11th straight Saturday they would equal the school record for losses in a season, set in 2017-18.
Cal also has four more regular-season games remaining in the next two weeks.
Coming off an overtime loss at home to Arizona State, the Golden Bears were shellacked 97-60 at Southern Cal on Thursday.
Afterward, Cal coach Mark Fox continued to predict that better days lie ahead.
"It's just like the season," he said of the one-sided loss. "You don't flush it. You've got to value the misery. You've got to go through the fire. So when eventually you are ready, you'll battle like crazy because you have been through it and been burned."
Monty Bowser had his second consecutive strong offensive game for the Golden Bears, following up a career-best 14-point effort against Arizona State with a 13-point night against Southern Cal.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 18, 2023