Bruins take on the Trojans in a critical conference showdown
March 3, 2022
After a long season of injuries and Covid cancellations, with some impressive performances and some less than impressive performances, the 2021-2022 UCLA Bruins men's basketball team is down to one regular season basketball game. It does not get much better than the USC Trojans playing the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood to end the regular season on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The Bruins are 22-6 for the season and tied for second place in the Pac-12 with the Trojans with a conference record of 14-5. The winner will take second place in the conference and will be seeded #2 in the Pac-12 men's basketball post-season tournament, which is scheduled to be played March 9–12, at T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada.
The #1 seed is the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats clinched the regular season title with a blowout win over the Trojans, 91-71. The game was played last Tuesday Night at the Galen Center before a sellout crowd of 10,258 fans. The Pac-12 postseason tournament winner will receive the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Saturday's game with the Trojans is huge for the Bruins for a variety of reasons. First, the Bruins have lost five consecutive games to their cross-town rival. While the Bruins are 121-55 historically versus the Trojans in men's basketball, head coach Mick Cronin is 0-5 against the Trojans. In the city of Los Angeles, the stress that puts on the Bruins and Cronin is palpable.
In the Bruin 77-66 road win over victory over the Washington Huskies last Monday Night, forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. led the Bruin offensive attack with a career high of 30 points. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times after the game, the issue of the Trojans came up. "We have a lot of guys in the locker room that haven't beaten them," Jaquez said. "I know I haven't, I mean, it's something that we need to do. It's really do or die for us, and we're going to give it everything we've got to try to get that win."
Secondly, the Bruins are in a fight with the Trojans for national ranking and seeding in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. The Trojans, with a record of 25-5 on the season, have moved passed the Bruins in the AP rankings, with the Trojans at No. 16 and the Bruins at No. 17. The NCAA Net Rankings have the Bruins at #12 and the Trojans at #30.
The Net Rankings are based on game results, strength of schedule, game location (home, away, or neutral court) and quality of wins and losses. The Bruins are in better shape with the Net Rankings than are the Trojans and with a win over the Trojans would be in good shape for a top four seed. Another loss to the Trojans would put the Bruins at a #5 or #6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bruins, who after December 1st played only one game in 36 days due to the Covid pandemic, and have had various player injuries throughout the season, hope to be healthy for the Trojans on Saturday Night. Bruin guard Johnny Juzang has missed five games this season due to Covid and injuries, including the past two games with an ankle injury.
Juzang leads the Bruins in scoring at 17 points per game and will be needed against the Trojans. Juzang was named one of the five finalists for the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year award, which is awarded to the top shooting guard in the nation. Point Guard Tyger Campbell was named one of the five finalists for the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award.
Jaquez Jr. has been named as one of the five finalists of the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award. All three awards are annual awards that are presented by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. All three players made the All-Pac-12 basketball team last season.
The Bruins will need all three players on the floor for the Trojans game. The Trojans have a very athletic lineup and have improved defensively. The Trojans are ranked No. 14 in the nation in defensive field goal percentage and No. 12 in the nation in defensive rebounding per game. Only the Arizona Wildcats in the Pac-12 are better. The Wildcats are ranked No. 2 in the nation in defensive rebounding per game and No. 4 in the nation in defensive field goal percentage.
The Bruins are ranked No. 60 in the nation in defensive field goal percentage and No. 138 in in the nation in defensive rebounding. This will not be an easy game for the Bruins. Despite that fact that the Bruins were a final four team last season and brought everyone from that team back for this season, the Trojans and the Wildcats are much improved. Saturday Night's game against the Trojans will start at 7:00 PM and will be televised nationally on ESPN.