UCLA coach Mick Cronin said his team learned how to win last year. That’s when the Bruins, who had to rally in their First Four game to beat Michigan State in overtime, parlayed their No. 11 seed into a Final Four trip.
Second-ranked UCLA used that experience in the clutch Friday night to erase Villanova’s 10-point second half advantage, rallying to beat the No. 4 Wildcats 86-77 in overtime.
Next up for the Bruins: A Monday night game in Pauley Pavilion against visiting Long Beach State that’s likely to not possess any of the electricity and hype of Villanova’s arrival in Los Angeles.
But given UCLA’s dramatic ascension from tourney hopeful in March to a true national championship contender, it seems unlikely it will let the 49ers trip them up after winning a game that had a Final Four feel.
“They do believe in themselves,” Cronin said of the Bruins. “Even when you watch them in the huddle, they believe in themselves. And they know I believe in them. They know how to win.”
That was fairly obvious when they forced the Wildcats to miss six straight shots at the end of regulation while they steadily chipped away at a deficit that reached double figures. Once in overtime, UCLA quickly established a five-point lead and then put the game away at the foul line.
Johnny Juzang scored 25 points, although it took him 24 shots to get there, to lead the Bruins (2-0). Jaime Jaquez overcame some turnover problems to add 21 points and 13 rebounds, helping UCLA earn a 46-32 advantage on the glass.
“We love these games,” Juzang said. “Villanova is a great team and great program, so I think this is where we have the most fun. We return the whole team, so I think there was just a sense of excitement to come here and play this game.”
Cronin said Jules Bernard’s contribution flew under the radar. Bernard finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, canning a floater in the lane to even the score at 67 and force overtime.
Meanwhile, Long Beach State (1-0) comes in fresh off a 95-89 overtime win at Idaho Wednesday night. The 49ers got a game-high 28 points from Joel Murray and limited the Vandals to four points in the extra period, spoiling the opening of their new on-campus arena.
It was fitting that Long Beach State was on hand for the ice-breaker at Idaho. Dan Monson, its 14th-year coach, is the son of long-time Vandals coach Don Monson, who was honored in pregame ceremonies.
Jordan Roberts added a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double for Long Beach State, including a 3-pointer that capped a 9-0 run late in regulation that gave it an 82-81 edge. The 49ers canned 57.1 percent of their shots from the field and earned a 40-35 advantage on the boards.
Their trip to UCLA kicks off a relatively tough part of their nonconference schedule. Long Beach State will also visit USC and San Diego State before starting its Big West Conference schedule.
The Bruins have won the last six meetings in the series, including a 69-65 decision to start the 2019-20 season.
–Field Level Media