Jaylen Clark evokes defense-minded UCLA in NCAA match

Before he left the rostrum late Thursday night time, Mick Cronin saluted somebody a number of hundred miles away.

“Jaylen Clark,” Cronin stated, “we miss you, buddy.”

Yes, the UCLA Bruins actually do.

Clark is their greatest defender, if not the nation’s greatest. He’s their emotional spark plug, following his takeaways resulting in simple baskets with a muscled flex and a mighty roar.

He has additionally turn out to be a galvanizing drive, even whereas resting his injured leg again in Southern California as his staff makes an attempt this March march with out him.

“I think we’re playing a lot for Jaylen this tournament,” senior ahead Jaime Jaquez Jr. stated after the second-seeded Bruins (30-5) simply dispatched North Carolina Asheville 86-53 within the first spherical of the NCAA match, establishing a second-round showdown in opposition to seventh-seeded Northwestern (22-11) on Saturday night time at Golden 1 Center.

His presence might be felt in each sideline lure, each deflected go, each blocked shot that he evokes. What is likely to be the very best protection within the nation hasn’t skilled a drop-off since Clark limped to the sideline, by no means to return, in opposition to Arizona throughout UCLA’s ultimate regular-season recreation.

Actually, the Bruins have gotten higher, not less than analytically. They have given up a median of 59.8 factors within the 4 video games since Clark obtained harm, down from the 60.1 factors they’d allowed beforehand. Along the way in which, they moved up one place within the defensive effectivity metrics of basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy, taking up the No. 1 spot nationally.

The Bruins’ Amari Bailey, left and Jaime Jaquez Jr. battle UNC Asheville’s Fletcher Abee for a rebound Thursday night time.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Nobody does it higher as a result of all people on this staff has stepped up. Jaquez stockpiled a career-high 5 steals in a single half. Amari Bailey clogged passing lanes. Tyger Campbell stripped balls. Kenneth Nwuba admirably manned the put up.

Read also  PSG star nears huge profession landmarks

“We’re not better without Jaylen Clark,” Cronin stated, stating the plain in case anybody wanted to listen to it. “I think our intensity has gone up lately. That’s helped. I think Jaime has definitely taken his deflections, defense, trying to create more steals. He and Amari are definitely trying to make up for some of Jaylen Clark’s absence with their activity on the defensive end.”

UCLA hasn’t been fairly as disruptive — forcing 13 turnovers since Clark obtained harm in contrast with 16.2 earlier than — however the outcomes have been equally pleasing.

The subsequent problem might require the Bruins to succeed in a brand new degree of lockdown. They should cease Northwestern’s Boo Buie, who frightens even the very best defenses together with his slick playmaking. Buie (17.3 factors per recreation) and fellow senior guard Chase Audige (14.0) will undoubtedly be the main focus of Cronin’s plan.

“Those guys are veterans, and they’re really good,” Cronin stated. “I mean, they don’t need a screen. They can get their own shot off the dribble. They got great one-on-one ability.”

One choice could be to place Bailey on Buie given his continued late-season emergence on each ends of the court docket. Is that an task Bailey would covet?

“I’m always up for a challenge, whoever it is,” Bailey stated. “Lace the kicks up, and let’s get it.”

Should whoever is guarding Buie get beat, some assist might arrive on the again line. UCLA freshman middle Adem Bona would possibly return from the left shoulder damage that has sidelined him because the Pac-12 Conference match semifinal in opposition to Oregon. Bona was obtainable to play in opposition to Asheville, although Cronin selected to permit his shoulder extra time to heal.

Read also  Dodgers anticipate Gavin Lux to overlook prolonged interval

Cronin stated he would put Bona by way of a extra rigorous follow Friday, asking him to do extra issues, to evaluate whether or not he would play in opposition to the Wildcats.

Clark’s presence will likely be felt, even when his in-game contribution may very well be confined to live-tweeting like he did throughout the Pac-12 match. His teammates have stored him of their heads and hearts, remaining linked in any method they’ll regardless of the gap.

“We call him, text him,” UCLA guard David Singleton stated. “Always ask him how he’s doing. Sometimes, like, he doesn’t tell me, but I know I’m annoying him, trying to keep up with him, everything like that. He says: ‘I’m fine. I’m good. Don’t worry about me, worry about the games.’ ”

UCLA guard Jaylen Clark celebrates against Arizona on March 4, 2023.

UCLA guard Jaylen Clark celebrates throughout the Bruins’ 82-73 win in opposition to Arizona on March 4. The defensive stalwart suffered a leg damage that recreation and is out for the season.

(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

The Bruins have persevered by sustaining the defense-first mindset their coach calls for. Players break staff huddles earlier than every recreation by yelling, in unison, “Lock in on defense!”

They solely want there was yet one more voice, belonging to the participant referred to as J-Rock.

“I miss my teammate,” freshman guard Dylan Andrews stated, “but we’re going to keep going, we’re going to keep pushing. That’s one of our motivations right there, we want to get this banner for Rock.”