By Morris Phillips
The latest meeting of Bears and Bruins at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon gained its origins in practice. That in accordance with the UCLA players, the Cal non-starters and both head coaches.
The familiar, starting group for the Cal Bears was an ominous omission from the philosophy, and that storyline goes a long way in explaining UCLA’s 98-83 win in which they shot 53 percent from the floor, posted a season-high in points, and methodically ran away from the Bears after halftime.
Coach Wyking Jones elected to bench his entire starting lineup in attempt to shake things up and spur his Bears to avoid a tenth, consecutive road loss in Pac-12 conference play. The reasoning, whether brutally spot-on or partially contrived had its roots in how the Bears have been preparing and practicing.
“Guys think that their starting positions are something that is given to them,” Jones explained. “I wanted to do something different. The guys that started have been working hard and giving us great things in practice, and we decided to go with that lineup.”
The shakeup actually involved just three players: guard Darius McNeill and the frontcourt tandem of Andre Kelly and Justice Sueing. Starting point guard Paris Austin was a late scratch after he was injured in practice on Friday. And swingman Juwan Harris-Dyson, most frequently used as a reserve, started Thursday and Saturday.
Meanwhile, UCLA practiced twice a day and visited the weight room daily, all a convenience (if you will) afforded the Bruins because they’re currently on winter break and aren’t attending classes. Interim coach Murry Bartow cooked up the scheme as his introduction as Steve Alford’s replacement, as well as the precursor to the Bruins playing faster, and maximizing their edges in athleticism and depth.
“Now we’re working as hard as we possibly can, which we weren’t doing before,” UCLA freshman Jules Bernard admitted.
Cal’s disjointed lineup and UCLA’s renewed commitment led to a predictable result as the Bruins became the eighth (of 14) Bears’ opponent to shoot at least 51 percent from the field, and the seventh to win as a result. The Bears did a whole lot of good too, getting big efforts from McNeill and Sueing, who each sat briefly only to play the entirety of the remainder of the game.
The Bears came up big in the passing lanes, registering 17 steals and adding four blocked shots. But that was partially negated by 18 Cal turnovers.
But the fast UCLA pace irritated the Bears, especially at the end of both halves when the Bears flatlined and allowed the Bruins to race to a bigger lead. Six Bruins scored in double figures and the 95 points were a season-high for UCLA, 48 hours after they posted 92 points on Stanford.
“The ball is moving and everybody touches the ball, we all get better. That’s what we want as a team,” said David Singleton, who contributed 14 points off the bench. “We don’t want to look good individually because anybody can do that. We want to look good as a unit and as a team.”
The Bears return home Wednesday for a meeting with Arizona State, before tackling Arizona on Saturday.
SOPHOMORE BRYCE TURNER, 19, PASSES AWAY IN LOS ANGELES HOSPITAL: Cal football player Bryce Turner, who played in one game this season, died Saturday, the school announced.
Turner suffered an undisclosed medical event during a workout on December 30 near his Southern California home.
“Bryce was a young man with a bright future and a valued member of our football team and the Cal family. His life was taken far too soon, and he will be deeply missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bryce’s family, friends, teammates and coaches during this difficult time, and we will do all that we can to support each other, his family, our students and the entire Cal community through the grieving process,” said Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton.