Jaylen Clark inspires defense-minded UCLA in NCAA tournament

SACRAMENTO —  Earlier than he left the rostrum late Thursday evening, Mick Cronin saluted somebody a number of hundred miles away.“Jaylen Clark,” Cronin mentioned, “we miss you, buddy.”Sure, the UCLA Bruins definitely do.Clark is their greatest defender, if not the nation’s greatest. He’s their emotional spark plug, following his takeaways resulting in straightforward baskets with a muscled flex and a mighty roar.He has additionally turn out to be a galvanizing drive, even whereas resting his injured leg again in Southern California as his workforce makes an attempt this March march with out him.“I feel we’re taking part in lots for Jaylen this event,” senior ahead Jaime Jaquez Jr. mentioned after the second-seeded Bruins (30-5) simply dispatched North Carolina Asheville 86-53 within the first spherical of the NCAA event, establishing a second-round showdown towards seventh-seeded Northwestern (22-11) on Saturday evening at Golden 1 Heart. His presence will be felt in each sideline lure, each deflected cross, each blocked shot that he conjures up. What is likely to be the perfect protection within the nation hasn’t skilled a drop-off since Clark limped to the sideline, by no means to return, towards Arizona throughout UCLA’s remaining regular-season recreation.Really, the Bruins have gotten higher, at the least analytically. They’ve given up a median of 59.8 factors within the 4 video games since Clark bought damage, down from the 60.1 factors they’d allowed beforehand. Alongside the best way, they moved up one place within the defensive effectivity metrics of basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy, taking up the No. 1 spot nationally. The Bruins’ Amari Bailey, left and Jaime Jaquez Jr. battle UNC Asheville’s Fletcher Abee for a rebound Thursday evening.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Occasions) No person does it higher as a result of everyone on this workforce has stepped up. Jaquez stockpiled a career-high 5 steals in a single half. Amari Bailey clogged passing lanes. Tyger Campbell stripped balls. Kenneth Nwuba admirably manned the put up.“We’re not higher with out Jaylen Clark,” Cronin mentioned, stating the apparent in case anybody wanted to listen to it. “I feel our depth has gone up currently. That’s helped. I feel Jaime has undoubtedly taken his deflections, protection, making an attempt to create extra steals. He and Amari are undoubtedly making an attempt to make up for a few of Jaylen Clark’s absence with their exercise on the defensive finish.” UCLA hasn’t been fairly as disruptive — forcing 13 turnovers since Clark bought damage in contrast with 16.2 earlier than — however the outcomes have been equally pleasing.The subsequent problem might require the Bruins to succeed in a brand new stage of lockdown. They should cease Northwestern’s Boo Buie, who frightens even the perfect defenses together with his slick playmaking. Buie (17.3 factors per recreation) and fellow senior guard Chase Audige (14.0) will undoubtedly be the main target of Cronin’s plan.“These guys are veterans, they usually’re actually good,” Cronin mentioned. “I imply, they don’t want a display. They’ll get their very own shot off the dribble. They bought nice one-on-one capacity.”One choice can be to place Bailey on Buie given his continued late-season emergence on each ends of the courtroom. Is that an task Bailey would covet?“I’m all the time up for a problem, whoever it’s,” Bailey mentioned. “Lace the kicks up, and let’s get it.”Ought to whoever is guarding Buie get beat, some assist might arrive on the again line. UCLA freshman heart Adem Bona may return from the left shoulder damage that has sidelined him because the Pac-12 Convention event semifinal towards Oregon. Bona was obtainable to play towards Asheville, although Cronin selected to permit his shoulder further time to heal. Cronin mentioned he would put Bona by means of a extra rigorous apply Friday, asking him to do further issues, to evaluate whether or not he would play towards the Wildcats.Clark’s presence might be felt, even when his in-game contribution could possibly be confined to live-tweeting like he did in the course of the Pac-12 event. His teammates have stored him of their heads and hearts, remaining related in any means they will regardless of the gap.“We name him, textual content him,” UCLA guard David Singleton mentioned. “All the time ask him how he’s doing. Generally, like, he doesn’t inform me, however I do know I’m annoying him, making an attempt to maintain up with him, every thing like that. He says: ‘I’m advantageous. I’m good. Don’t fear about me, fear concerning the video games.’ ” UCLA guard Jaylen Clark celebrates in the course of the Bruins’ 82-73 win towards Arizona on March 4. The defensive stalwart suffered a leg damage that recreation and is out for the season.(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Related Press) The Bruins have persevered by sustaining the defense-first mindset their coach calls for. Gamers break workforce huddles earlier than every recreation by yelling, in unison, “Lock in on protection!”They solely want there was yet one more voice, belonging to the participant referred to as J-Rock.“I miss my teammate,” freshman guard Dylan Andrews mentioned, “however we’re going to maintain going, we’re going to maintain pushing. That’s one in all our motivations proper there, we need to get this banner for Rock.”