No. 2 UCLA overcomes Long Beach State upset bid in victory

No 2 UCLA overcomes Long Beach State upset bid in

Long Beach State was on its team bus a year ago, ready to make the short drive up the 405 to Pauley Pavilion for its season opener against UCLA. The Beach never made the trip; the game was canceled because of COVID-19 issues on its roster.

A makeup game in December got called off too because of the same problem. Long Beach State coach Dan Monson recently joked that the Bruins, who would go all the way to the Final Four, started winning too much so he had sent his players to superspreader events.

Nearly a year later, the teams finally got to play. The Beach was overjoyed for the opportunity until early in the second half.

Using a small-ball lineup that featured guards Jaylen Clark and Jaime Jaquez Jr. as its big men, the second-ranked Bruins overcame an early five-point deficit to pull away for a 100-79 victory at Pauley Pavilion.

Clark provided some offense to go with his usual lockdown defense, a putback dunk in the final minutes sparking some of the biggest cheers of the night as the Bruins (3-0) averted a major upset.

It was more relief than rejoicing after UCLA used a 28-13 surge opening the second half to persevere through a ragged defensive effort in which it repeatedly faltered in its efforts to stop Colin Slater and Joel Murray. The Beach duo combined for 57 points while making 23 of 30 shots (76.7%).

UCLA’s Johnny Juzang countered with 25 points, though he needed 21 shots to get there, and Jules Bernard added 22 to lead five Bruins in double figures scoring. UCLA won comfortably enough that it was able to insert walk-on guard Russell Stong in the final minute, pleasing the crowd that had chanted it wanted him to play.

Jaquez scored 17 points and Tyger Campbell had 15 for UCLA, which prevailed after shooting 57.9% in the second half to Long Beach State’s 46.2%.

Three days after their thrilling overtime victory over Villanova, the Bruins suffered an across-the-board hangover. The sellout crowd and boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer and his “Let’s get ready to rumble!” spiel were gone, and so was UCLA’s crisp play.

Long Beach State’s Colin Slater splits Bruins Johnny Juzang, left, and Jules Bernard on his way to the basket during Monday’s game.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

There was audible unease inside the arena when Slater sunk a jumper to give the Beach (1-1) a five-point lead late in the first half before the Bruins rallied to take a 48-45 lead at the game’s midpoint.

The defensive toughness the Bruins unveiled late in the game against Villanova that sparked their comeback from a 10-point deficit was nowhere to be seen in the first half as Murray and Slater combined for 37 points. The Beach made 20 of 30 shots (66.7%) and four of five three-point attempts. Its one blemish was its 10 first-half turnovers.

By the time Juzang took his first breather, subbed out for David Singleton nearly five minutes into the game, he already had 10 points.

Long Beach State continually hurt itself, committing four turnovers before the first television timeout. But the Beach was scrappy, blocking two shots and showing some offensive savvy when Murray (30 points) made a baseline floater to tie the score at 12-12.

The Bruins moved back ahead when Campbell drove toward the basket before finding Johnson for a three-point play on a layup in which he was fouled.

UCLA finally started to get some separation thanks to an 8-0 push sparked by four points from Campbell and a nice pass from Bernard to a cutting Juzang for a layup.

But here came the Beach again, with a tidal wave of points in a 14-0 run that the Bruins heavily contributed to by taking contested jumpers that they kept missing.

Slater (27 points) was in the middle of everything Long Beach State was doing on offense, scoring 12 points to trigger the big push that ultimately wasn’t enough.

UCLA redshirt senior forward Cody Riley remained sidelined by the sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee that he suffered in the season opener against Cal State Bakersfield. He’s scheduled to be reevaluated this week.

Meanwhile, the Bruins appeared to solve a big problem outside their arena. The experience for students getting into Pauley Pavilion was much improved from the disorder that had led to a crush of bodies before the Villanova game, according to Tobias Sunshine, a senior political science and history major. Sunshine said barricades kept the line orderly and an increased security presence monitored students going into the arena to ensure safety.

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