Analysis: Jaylen Clark’s loss does not imply finish of UCLA’s title hopes

Jaylen Clark’s lower-leg damage adjustments issues.

If UCLA manages the state of affairs appropriately, perhaps not all the things.

The attainable season-ending lack of the group’s defensive maestro Clark, a.ok.a., the Man of Steal, to the damage suffered throughout a win over Arizona final weekend is unequivocally an enormous blow to the Bruins’ nationwide championship hopes.

It doesn’t need to be a deadly one.

Fortunately for the Bruins, they’ve a sixth man skilled at sliding into the beginning lineup and two different energetic defenders on the bench who can largely compensate for Clark’s absence. What’s extra, they’ve all finished this earlier than.

Clark tweeted two hearts and a thank-you emoji late Saturday after returning to UCLA’s bench on crutches with one foot in a strolling boot. He limped to the bench a bit greater than two minutes into the second half earlier than changing into overcome by emotion and needing help to the locker room.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin mentioned Tuesday that Clark was out for the Pac-12 event this week and wouldn’t journey to Las Vegas, including the Bruins would communicate with the NCAA event choice committee if it wished to inquire about Clark’s additional availability.

“I’m not trying to avoid things with the tournament committee,” Cronin mentioned, “so if they wish to communicate with us I’m sure they will.”

The lack of the group’s prime defender shouldn’t be understated. Clark is a candidate for nationwide defensive participant of the yr who led the Pac-12 Conference with 2.6 steals per sport and may defend each place on the court docket. With his energetic arms, fast ft and relentless method, he typically made it troublesome for these he guarded to simply get off a cross cleanly.

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Clark was an emotional spark plug on monitor to earn the group’s Hungry Dog Award, a rawhide canine bone that goes to the participant who tallies essentially the most deflections — steals, blocks, tipped passes and unfastened balls collected. He departed early within the second half of the No. 2 Bruins’ 82-73 victory over the No. 8 Wildcats at Pauley Pavilion after a steal within the backcourt that led to a layup, Clark gutting by means of the ache for one ultimate spotlight within the regular-season finale.

“Jaylen Clark is an unbelievably mature kid, so he’s in a great place mentally and he’s excited for” his teammates, Cronin mentioned.

There’s no upside to the state of affairs, however some perspective and planning may calm the angst and quiet the nerves. UCLA has overcome important absences earlier than. It was two years in the past that Chris Smith, the group’s second-leading scorer, was misplaced to a midseason knee damage not lengthy earlier than Jalen Hill, the Bruins’ prime inside defender, left to cope with nervousness and melancholy.

Remember what occurred subsequent? That group superior to the Final Four.

This season the Bruins have withstood one important damage. Freshman guard Amari Bailey missed greater than a month due to discomfort in his left foot. Cronin inserted sixth man David Singleton into the beginning lineup, gave freshmen Dylan Andrews and Will McClendon further minutes off the bench and the group went 6-1 earlier than Bailey returned.

UCLA guard Dylan Andrews, second from left, shoots as Washington State guard Jabe Mullins, left, and guard TJ Bamba, proper, defend through the first half on Feb. 4 at Pauley Pavilion.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Like Clark, the 6-foot-2 Andrews is a defensive troublemaker who can pester opponents along with his capability to tip and steal passes. Andrews helped the Bruins pull out a street victory over Arizona State this season with seven first-half factors and a steal that he adopted with a breakaway dunk.

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McClendon is a promising 3-and-D participant who must regain his confidence after lacking final season with a knee damage. He’s made solely two of 23 three-point makes an attempt (.087%) in his debut season, however his taking pictures isn’t the explanation his worth simply skyrocketed; his defensive smarts and exercise can be important for the Bruins to maintain enjoying into April.

There additionally is likely to be a handful of minutes for freshman swingman Abramo Canka, whose size and poise in a restricted position have made him a participant UCLA followers are desperate to see play in coming seasons. That timeline may have simply been moved up significantly.

“Opportunity,” Cronin mentioned. “A great thing for young kids. I’ve been saying all year I believe in our young guys. … Fun week to give those guys a chance to play and see how things look.”

Cronin has lengthy derided convention tournaments as basically meaningless, with some legitimate examples to again his declare. He’s misplaced within the first spherical and made a Final Four. He’s gained the factor and misplaced his subsequent sport, ending his season.

This can be completely different. These subsequent few video games can be essential. Top-seeded UCLA wants to determine its rotations and minutes distribution beginning Thursday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas throughout a Pac-12 event quarterfinal towards Colorado or Washington.

Bet on Singleton beginning. Bet on Andrews and McClendon enjoying extra minutes off the bench. And if all of them play as much as their capabilities, guess on the Bruins remaining formidable.