No. 21-ranked UCLA opens Pac-12 Conference play in search of its first win away from home this season on Thursday when it travels to face host Stanford at Palo Alto, Calif.
The Bruins (5-2) rebounded from a pair of hard-fought losses Nov. 18 and 20 at Las Vegas against Illinois and Baylor, UCLA’s only games away from Pauley Pavilion thus far in 2022-23.
After coach Mick Cronin criticized the Bruins’ defense in the Las Vegas defeats, UCLA responded with inspired defensive performance in blowouts of Pepperdine and Bellarmine. Despite the 2-0 week, UCLA dropped two spots in the rankings.
The Bruins held Pepperdine to just 21-of-60 shooting (35 percent) from the floor in a 100-53 rout Nov. 23, then followed it up by forcing 20 turnovers in Sunday’s 81-60 defeat of Bellarmine.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. contributed to the inspired defensive play against Bellarmine, highlighting his best all-around performance of the season with four steals to complement a season-high 27 points.
“Jaime played as hard as he’s played all year in the first 10 minutes of the game on defense,” Cronin said. “And that’s my challenge. Jaime’s going to have a long career if he can defend pros.”
Jaquez may find himself facing another future pro on Thursday in Stanford’s Harrison Ingram. Ingram tested the NBA draft waters last spring, coming off a freshman campaign in which he averaged 10.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and three assists per game.
“My dream is the NBA,” Ingram said prior to the start of the season. “But another dream is making March Madness, and I feel like we have a great chance to do it this year.”
This season, Ingram is averaging a team-best 3.3 assists per game, as well as 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game – both second-most for the Cardinal.
Stanford (3-4) last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and has finished no better than in a tie for third of the conference since Jerod Haase’s arrival as head coach in 2016.
After a challenging opening stretch to the season, wrapping up last weekend’s ESPN Events Invitational at 1-2 following a 56-48 loss Sunday to Memphis, the Cardinal look to start Pac-12 play with a statement against a UCLA team picked to win the league in the preseason poll.
Stanford features three scorers averaging in double-figures, with Spencer Jones and Michael Jones posting 10.7 and 10.3 points per game respectively. All three top scorers are shooting worse than 37 percent from the floor, however, and Ingram at 32 percent is the only of the trio connecting on better than 29 percent from 3-point range.
Offensively, Stanford has been solid inside the arc at 53 percent shooting for the season — good enough to rank No. 88 nationally in 2-point field-goal percentage through games played Monday –but the Cardinal are among the country’s worst 3-point shooting teams at 28.3 percent.
UCLA, meanwhile, is holding opponents to 29.6 percent shooting from long range while knocking down 39.1 percent on its own end.
David Singleton is a blistering 18 of 33 (54.5 percent) from beyond the arc through UCLA’s first seven games. Jaylen Clark has been the Bruins’ next-most effective 3-point shooter at 7 of 15 (46.7 percent), which is part of his 15.7 points per game.
The versatile Clark missed UCLA’s win over Bellarmine due to a non-COVID illness but returned to practice this week.
–Field Level Media