No. 19 UCLA returns home after a challenging weekend against Top 20 opponents in Las Vegas, facing a stiff test from an upstart Pepperdine team on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
The Bruins (3-2) dropped heartbreakers to Illinois and Baylor on Friday and Sunday, respectively, as part of the Continental Tires Main Event tournament.
UCLA squandered a 15-point edge in the opening-round defeat to the Fighting Illini, then struggled to deny Baylor key baskets down the stretch of Sunday’s 80-75 loss.
“We’re not good enough to win either game, defensively, and that’s my job,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “We’ve worked hard at it. We’re just not there yet. Not against a team like this.”
Pepperdine (4-1), meanwhile, will make the short trek to UCLA from Malibu coming off one of the program’s best defensive showings in years.
The Waves held UC Irvine to 28.4 percent shooting from the field in a 64-55 Pepperdine win on Saturday, the program’s lowest field-goal shooting yield against a Division I opponent in almost eight years.
“Defense is a team game,” Pepperdine guard Houston Mallette said after Irvine made just 19 of 67 shots from the floor. “It’s the same as offense: team offense, team defense. We approach it as having everyone’s back … make a persistent effort to lock guys down, guard, and then go get the rebound.”
The Waves trailed UC Irvine 21-6 early before rallying for the win. It was the first loss of the season for Irvine — a team that had been unbeaten including a 13-point win over then-No. 21 Oregon.
Coach Lorenzo Romar leads Pepperdine into Pauley Pavilion for Wednesday’s contest, and he is no stranger to UCLA basketball.
An assistant coach on the 1994-95 team that won the last of UCLA’s NCAA-record 11 national championships, Romar is in his fifth season back at Pepperdine, where he got his first head-coaching gig in 1996. After three years in Malibu, he spent three at Saint Louis and then 15 as head coach Washington (his alma mater), where he was voted conference coach of the year three times.
He spent two years as associate head coach at Arizona before landing back at Pepperdine.
Pepperdine is shooting effectively from 3-point range at 45.8 percent on the young season — fifth-best in the country, with Mike Mitchell Jr.’s 16-for-28 and Maxwell Lewis’ 10-for-17 leading the way. Four players are averaging at least 12 points a game, led by Lewis’ 17.2
UCLA comes in shooting 40.2 percent from behind the 3-point line, paced by Jaylen Clark’s 7-of-15 and David Singleton’s 15-of-27.
Clark, who was a driving force behind UCLA’s 3-0 start, bounced back from a seven-point performance in Friday’s loss to Illinois with a 23-point, 10-rebound effort against Baylor.
Despite his own individual play on Sunday, Clark was blunt in his postgame assessment.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t get the job done,” he said. “When we go back home and get the defensive side fixed, I do believe we can play with anybody.”
–Field Level Media