The #23 ranked Bruins defeated Oregon State 57-52 in a night where they struggled shooting the basketball. UCLA led by forward Cody Riley, who finished with a double, double, 16 points, and ten rebounds.
Head coach Mick Cronin said Riley is the best player in practice, dedicated, and puts in a lot of time. “Cody is a product practice habits. He’s really learned how to play hard and work himself into condition.”
Cronin acknowledged that some players think they don’t have to play hard in practice during the postgame presser. “It’s funny, a lot of guys think they are going to score at game time, but didn’t give their all in practice, and then they try to hit the switch. I think that’s a problem with our shooting. We didn’t have great practices other than Cody.” Cronin believes this is why Riley has grown as a player.
The next few weeks for the Bruins will be a challenge, said Cronin. He told reporters he doesn’t sleep until the season is over. “All I do is watch is games, and I’ve seen some crazy endings this week. It’s getting to that silly season in college basketball. Season’s getting long for the kids, covid is making to longer. I told the guys, next few weeks are going to be a grind until late February.”
Cronin notes the players see the tournament coming, and it’s a different feel for them. “Right now, it’s a grind for us.” He states it’s a long year, and no other team in the country has done a better job staying safe. “It’s a grind for everybody in college basketball, more of a grind than it’s ever been.”
The players wish they had more gym access, according to Riley. He notes that it has been challenging to get in during these times. “It’s pretty difficult to get in the gym. We can’t come at night like we’re usually able to do. For me, that’s been the biggest adversity we have to deal with. I have to focus more on the mental part, like watching film on the other team. I try to be as mentally prepared as I can.”
Forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. said they strive to stick together as brothers. “Our social life is just our team. That’s pretty much who we see and hang out with outside of basketball. We try to stick together; we’re a close tight knit group. We all live close to each other, so after games and practices we hangout. It’s very unfortunate what’s happening, but as long as we get to play, we’re happy.”
When the Bruins recently lost against Stanford, they felt like they should have won. It motivated them to do better. “The team came with fire. We lost a game we thought we thought we wasn’t supposed to lose. We know we are better than that. It’s underneath us. I feel like we can be a really good team this season,” says Riley.
Jaquez Jr. impacts the game in other ways when he isn’t shooting well. He says when he’s not making shots, his goal is to affect the game by getting steals, blocks and getting as many rebounds as he can. “I know those little things add up, and those help you win the game, says Jaquez Jr. Sharing the ball even shots are not falling shows the character of the team says Jaquez Jr.
UCLA is preparing for a big game on Saturday against USC. Last season UCLA took a heartbreaking loss to USC at the buzzer when former Trojan guard Jonah Matthews knocked a three. Jacquez Jr. mentioned they took that loss into the offseason, and they look forward to this game. “It was definitely heartbreaking and we took that loss into this season. We’re really excited to go in this Saturday and play.”