No. 24 UCLA takes its perfect Pac-12 Conference record and seven-game winning streak to Santa Cruz, Calif., where the Bruins face Stanford on Saturday.
UCLA (12-2, 8-0 Pac-12) survived with a 61-57 win on Thursday at Cal to match the program’s best conference start in 38 years. The 1982-83 team won nine straight in the former Pac-10 before its first loss.
The 61 points Thursday marked the first time the Bruins scored fewer than 81 since a 65-62 victory over Colorado on Jan. 2. It was their lowest output since notching just 57 points in the season-opening loss at San Diego State.
“Our defense won the game for us,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said in his postgame teleconference. “My dad in Cincinnati right now, I just hope he’s not being rushed to the hospital with some of the turnovers we had.”
The Bruins committed 14 giveaways on Thursday. Point guard Tyger Campbell lost possession three times in a trying first half that UCLA ended trailing 36-32.
Thursday marked the second consecutive game in which the Bruins had to rally from a halftime deficit, as they came from down 10 to beat Washington 81-76 on Jan. 16.
The 57 points allowed were the fewest by a UCLA foe since San Diego managed only 56 on Dec. 9. The Bruins also gave up just 56 points in a 20-point blowout of the Golden Bears on Dec. 6 in Los Angeles.
Those absences could again loom on the Stanford defensive end: Stadium reported that Davis and Ziaire Williams would both be out of the lineup Thursday against Southern California. The game was postponed at the last minute due to a positive COVID-19 in USC’s program.
The uncertainty of Stanford’s roster makeup for Saturday complicates defending a balanced Bruins offense. UCLA features five players averaging double-figure scoring. A sixth, forward Chris Smith, sustained a season-ending ACL injury Dec. 31.
Two of them — Cody Riley and Jules Bernard — led the way at Cal with 13 and 11 points, respectively. Johnny Juzang, who has recent performances of 16 points at Arizona and 17 vs. Washington State, scored nine on Thursday.
After the USC game’s postponement, Saturday marks Stanford’s first game at its temporary home in Santa Cruz since Jan. 9. The Cardinal are playing 50 miles from campus due to Santa Clara County COVID-19 restrictions.
–Field Level Media
Cronin credited his team’s defensive adjustments in the second half on Thursday, which included holding Cal to 3-of-10 shooting from 3-point range. The Golden Bears opened hitting a blistering 7 of 12 in the first half.
Stanford (8-5, 4-3) comes into the Saturday matchup shooting just 31.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc on the season.
The Cardinal instead rely on the interior play of forward Oscar da Silva — who is hitting 61.5 percent of his shots and producing 19.3 points per game — to complement their often stingy defense.
Stanford is holding opponents to 68.2 points per game and 43.2 percent shooting from 2-point territory, one of the best marks in the country. The Cardinal’s defense wasn’t as effective over the past two games, however, giving up 79 and 77 points, respectively, in 14- and 13-point losses at Utah and at Colorado.
The road sweep leaves Stanford with significant ground to make up on conference-leading UCLA, just one series removed from tipping off the weekend only a game behind the Bruins.
Stanford was without Bryce Wills and Spencer Jones at Colorado, and Daejon Davis was limited to 23 minutes.
“You’re starting (without) three very, very good, individual defenders,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase said. “That’s going to make it a little bit more challenging, because they have the ability to cover space — whether it’s on the basketball, so the weak side doesn’t have to help as much, or if they are on the weak side, they can also get (to the ball) and close out to 3-point shooters.”