Fresh off a crazy flight experience, No. 4 UCLA is certainly glad to be playing at home when it entertains Alabama State on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
The Bruins (8-1) endured a scary situation to defeat Marquette 67-56 on Saturday night in Milwaukee but the travel to make it to the game was more troublesome than the opponent.
UCLA’s plane was diverted in Denver on Friday due to a cracked windshield in the cockpit. The team spent the night in a hotel near the airport and searched for ways to travel to the stormy Midwest on Saturday.
Marquette helped the cause by pushing back the tipoff seven hours to 8:30 p.m. local time. The Bruins made it to Milwaukee and built an early 23-point lead while winning their third straight game, not including a forfeit victory.
Jamie Jaquez Jr. didn’t seem all that affected during the game as he scored a season-best 24 points and collected 11 rebounds.
“It was a pretty smooth flight going out,” Jaquez said. “We hit some turbulence. All of sudden, they get on the P.A. They’re like, ‘Everybody get your seat belt on.’ Like, what the heck is going on? Then we have to make an emergency landing. And we’re like, ‘Oh my God, what happened?’
“We didn’t know what happened on the flight. We got off and they told us that the windshield cracked. And we’re like, ‘Oh my God.’ We didn’t realize the severity until after and how bad it really was.”
Jaquez ranks second on the Bruins in scoring (14.8 points per game) and rebounding (6.6) and has notched a team-high 11 steals. Johnny Juzang averages a team-best 16.6 points while Myles Johnson (5.7 points) leads in rebounding (6.9) and blocked shots with 16.
Jules Bernard (13.0) and Tyger Campbell (12.6, team-best 4.2 assists) also score in double digits for the balanced group.
“We just got a lot of guys that can hurt you at different times,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “We don’t really have one scorer. We can go bang-bang for six points, real quick.”
Bruins big man Cody Riley could make his return on Wednesday. He has been sidelined since sustaining a sprained MCL in his left knee in the season-opening win over Cal State Bakersfield.
Alabama State (1-9) remains in the area after losing 79-62 to Pepperdine on Saturday in Malibu. The Hornets are 0-7 on the road.
Overall, Alabama State has lost four straight games since beating North Carolina Central on Nov. 20.
The Hornets are coached by former NBA All-Star guard Mo Williams. He knows odds are long in terms of springing an upset but he is counting on his troops to be motivated to play one of the nation’s best programs.
“I don’t think we have to get the guys ready for that game,” Williams said of facing UCLA. “The guys know if you aren’t focused and ready to play, it will be over quick. We will be ready to play.”
Alabama State held a 10-point lead after 11 minutes against Pepperdine before the Waves eventually took over.
“We competed. Obviously, it’s always tough on the road,” Williams said. “You have to give (Pepperdine) credit, they are a good basketball team, they are young, and they have some talent and they had guys step up to make plays.”
Gerald Liddell leads Alabama State with a 10.9 scoring average.
This is the first meeting between the schools.
–Field Level Media