Eighth-ranked UCLA plays its final home contest before a pair of marquee dates in Las Vegas, welcoming visiting Norfolk State to Los Angeles on Monday.
The Bruins (2-0) faced little resistance in their first two outings, routing Sacramento State and Long Beach State by margins of 26 and 24 points, respectively. Jaylen Clark’s standout, all-around play headlined each of UCLA’s opening contests.
Clark followed a 7-of-7 shooting performance from the floor on Nov. 7 with 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals on Friday against Long Beach State.
UCLA has also had strong showings off the bench from veteran David Singleton, who finished with 14 points and a career-high nine rebounds on Friday.
Bruins coach Mick Cronin called Singleton “the star of the game” following the 93-69 rout.
“When you have a veteran player like Dave, he’s basically your sixth starter,” Cronin said. “Huge.”
Singleton’s presence is central to a balanced attack for UCLA, which features five players scoring at least 12 points per game through the very early going, and six posting at least eight.
Clark’s 16.5 and Tyger Campbell’s 16.0 points per game are setting the initial pace, while preseason All-American Jaime Jaquez Jr. is posting 13.0 points and 7.5 rebounds a contest.
The Bruins face No. 23 Illinois in the first round of the Continental Tire Main Event on Friday in Las Vegas. No. 5 Baylor and No. 18 Virginia meet on the other side of the bracket.
Norfolk State (2-1) had three players score in double figures Friday at Baylor, the Spartans’ first matchup against a Division I opponent thus far on the campaign, but could not overcome the Bears’ 15 made 3-pointers.
Joe Bryant Jr. led all scorers with 24 points in the loss.
Friday’s contest was a rematch of Norfolk State’s first-round NCAA Tournament loss, the second in two straight trips to March Madness for the Spartans under coach Robert Jones.
Norfolk State is aiming for a third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid this season. In pursuit of March success and to prepare for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference campaigin, Norfolk State is taking on a difficult nonconference schedule that includes three preseason top 10-ranked teams.
UCLA is second in that gauntlet, which also includes Houston. All three programs reached the 2021 Final Four, with Baylor winning it.
“Other teams are going to be coming for us, so we’ve got to stay locked in, stay mentally focused and win the mental game,” Bryant told the Virginian-Pilot. “If we do that, we can beat anybody.”
Jones’ teams have flourished with a tenacious defensive style. Last season, the Spartans ranked 16th in the nation in opponent 3-point percentage, allowing 29.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Kris Bankston is one of four Spartans averaging at least 13 points per game through the team’s first three, though the opening two were blowouts of Division II Virginia University of Lynchburg and Division III Cairn University.
–Field Level Media