Here’s Johnny. There’s Johnny. Everywhere’s Johnny.
Materializing in every spot his team needed him Tuesday night, UCLA’s Johnny Juzang found the offensive rhythm the Bruins badly needed with their season on the verge of a tailspin.
Stanford had no counters for the scoring onslaught that included a four-point play to go with a flurry of jumpers and driving layups that lifted the No. 12 Bruins to a 79-70 bounce-back victory over the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion.
In a scoring spree reminiscent of his strong play in last spring’s NCAA tournament, Juzang tallied 23 points, making 10 of 16 shots, in a strong rebuttal to the cold stretch against Arizona State last weekend in which he had missed his last eight shots.
“It’s fun, man,” Juzang said after posing for pictures with fans who had ventured onto the court. “I mean, my teammates were finding me, we were getting great looks all night moving the ball, great screening from the bigs, so it was a product of us playing so well together swinging that rock.”
Juzang made two floaters and a jumper during the game’s pivotal stretch after Stanford had closed to within 58-51, sparking UCLA’s 10-2 run that gave the Bruins a 68-53 advantage with 6:43 left.
There was momentary late drama after Stanford closed to within 75-68 with 1:16 to go, but the Cardinal could get no closer.
In the final minute, a loud “U-C-L-A!” chant reverberated through the arena, making the Bruins almost feel as if they were back home.
Guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. added 14 points and guard Tyger Campbell had 14 points and seven assists for the Bruins (17-4 overall, 9-3 Pac-12), who took over sole possession of second place in the conference standings, 1½ games behind Arizona.
UCLA wasn’t exactly able to recapture the defense-first form it wanted, allowing the Cardinal (14-9, 7-6) to shoot 53.7%. Fortunately for the Bruins, they shot 54.8% in what felt like almost the reverse of the teams’ first meeting 10 days ago.
“Offensively, that’s as good as we’ve played in a while,” said UCLA coach Mick Cronin, whose team was able to withstand making just six of 16 three-point attempts. “We didn’t shoot the ball again from three the way we’re capable of but we ran the floor and passed the ball better than we had in a while. We’ve got to continue to run the floor and pass the ball that way.”
The plan, if UCLA could script its evening, was for this makeup game to take on a double meaning.
In the literal sense, the Bruins were playing a game that had been postponed early last month by the pandemic’s ceaseless grip on college basketball.
But there was a lot more making up to do for a team that had turned in a pair of desert duds last week during losses to Arizona and Arizona State.
The uncharacteristic defensive lapses. The dubious late-game decision-making. The widening gulf between the Bruins and front-runner Arizona in the standings. If UCLA was to have any chance of catching the Wildcats, it would need to start Tuesday night.
“We watched a lot of film, went back to the drawing board, tried to remember what made us the team we were a couple of weeks ago and just kind of reiterated the fact that everyone’s coming for our head and we’ve got to be ready for it,” Jaquez said.
It had looked as if UCLA was on the way to a rout early in the second half when Juzang converted a steal by teammate Cody Riley into a layup and the Bruins led 52-37. But the Cardinal made six of seven shots to pull within 58-51 before Juzang went on one of his scoring binges.
His four-point play had come earlier in the second half after taking a bounce pass from Campbell and rising for a three-pointer while being fouled.
“That,” Cronin said, “was because of ball movement.”
The churn of injuries continued for the Bruins, freshman guard Peyton Watson sidelined by a lower right leg bruise. But the team got back sophomore guard Jaylen Clark after a five-game absence while he was stuck in concussion protocol for the second time since this fall.
Clark chipped in six points and two rebounds in 10 minutes, including some late highlights. He helped the Bruins get a defensive stop when he harassed Harrison Ingram into a traveling violation and added a dunk off an outlet pass from Campbell in the final moments.
“He brings a lot to the table for us,” Cronin said, “a lot of things that don’t show up in the stat sheet, they only show up in the won-loss column.”
After its first significant downturn of the season, UCLA was relieved to be back on the preferred side of that ledger.
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