Amari Bailey could hear the insults coming from the opposing bench.
UCLA’s freshman guard has been labeled a nonshooter. The defense he saw reflected those words, players sagging to give him extra shooting space while protecting against drives toward the basket.
Pepperdine’s game plan was not without merit. Bailey had been relatively quiet for the first five games of his collegiate career, including struggles in his first two matchups against national ranked teams.
That was different.
In case anyone needed reminders as to why he was ranked as one of the top high school candidates in the country, Bailey delivered one after the other Wednesday night at the Pauley Pavilion.
On a night when the Bruins’ defense returned to their usual suffocating form, Bailey provided a huge boost, scoring a career-high 19 points to lead the No. 19 Bruins to a 100-53 win over the Pepperdines great defense plans foiled.
“If you watch the movie, they went under the screen, and I felt like it was disrespectful, like they gave me a lot of feet to kick the ball,” Bailey said, “so I just took.” what the defense gave me.”
This included showing the many ways he can contribute.
Bailey continuously fed freshman center Adem Bona for dunks, once on a bounce pass, a second time on an under-basket wraparound pass, and a third time on a lob. He hit all three threes he took. And indeed, he overcame defenses aiming to stop his drives by accelerating past a helpless opponent for a layup.
“We’ve talked for a long time about not getting on the edge at that level, they’re going to force you to take shots, which he can do,” said UCLA coach Mick Cronin. “You know, he just has to accept it and it’s an adjustment. But you saw that he wanted to catch and shoot.
“Once he started getting it going, everyone – our entire team – started looking for him. We started doing plays for him.”
Bailey made seven of 12 shots remaining with four assists and three rebounds against zero turnover to lead six Bruins in double figures.
UCLA forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. contributed 17 points and eight rebounds while guard David Singleton added 13 points from the bench.
It’s been a strong comeback for Bailey after averaging three points and two turnovers in back-to-back losses last weekend while shooting 20%.
“For guys like Adem and Amari, you can’t even imagine the pressure these kids are under,” Cronin said. “I do that because you can cut it with a knife. I’m just trying to make life easier for guys like that, just keep playing hard, keep being trainable and anything will happen for you.
UCLA’s lost weekend had left her with a clear mandate upon returning to her home court: get the defense in order.
Declining efforts in the second half, in which UCLA gave up 51 points to Illinois and 43 to Baylor, had caused Cronin to voice his displeasure so loudly that he could be heard two rooms away after the second straight loss.
Three days later there was a much sweeter sound. It was the Bruins’ hands that constantly hit balls for deflections and steals while forcing five turnovers during a crucial first half, in which they turned a two-point deficit into a 15-point advantage.
As usual, UCLA stopper-designate Jaylen Clark was right in the thick of almost everything his team was doing defensively.
A Clark steal led to a spin move by Jaquez in lane for a layup. Clark then recovered the ball for his team by forcing Pepperdine’s Maxwell Lewis to turnover down the baseline.
UCLA (4-2) maintained their strong defensive game, keeping the Waves (4-2) to 35% shooting overall and just 24 points in the second half.
“Our efforts to protect the ball from the point of attack, our ball pressure was better than in years,” said Cronin. “We understood that if we made them feel comfortable and in rhythm with the way they kicked the ball, we were going to be in trouble.”
Ultimately, it was the Waves that put themselves at risk by underestimating a young bruin, leading to a breakthrough.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/story/2022-11-23/ucla-vs-pepperdine-basketball-recap Amari Bailey sparks UCLA’s big win over Pepperdine