2022-2023 UCLA Men’s Basketball Recap
Coming into the season ranked No. 8 in AP’s Top 25 poll, UCLA had title aspirations once again despite the loss of key contributors such as Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard, Peyton Watson, Cody Riley, and Myles Johnson. The Bruins followed up early defeats to Illinois and Baylor at the Continental Tire Main Event tournament in Las Vegas with 14 consecutive wins, including marquee matchups against Maryland, Kentucky, Oregon, and USC, despite a 7 game absence from 5-star freshman Amari Bailey. A 2-game skid away from home against USC and Arizona was followed by another win streak, this time of 10 games, with the Bruins clinching the regular season Pac-12 title after a win against Colorado. Ending the season with an 82-73 win against Arizona in Pauley Pavillion, UCLA finished with an undefeated record at home (17-0) for the first time since 2006-2007.
Entering the tournament as the #1 seed, the Bruins began by defeating Colorado 80-69, yet the loss of Jaylen Clark due to an Achilles injury proved to be a critical loss, as his relentless defense and improved scoring were essential to the team. UCLA handily defeated Oregon 75-56 in the second round, yet once again, a major injury clouded the victory; this time, an injured shoulder for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Adem Bona. Without Bona or Clark, the Bruins lost a nail-biter in the championship game against Arizona, 61-59.
Due to the conference tournament loss to Arizona, UCLA dropped from No. 2 to No. 7 in the final AP poll, giving the Bruins a #2 seed in the West Region of the bracket. The tournament began with an 86-53 blowout against #15 seed UNC Asheville, as a 14-0 start proved insurmountable for the Bulldogs. Next up, is the #7 seed Northwestern led by senior guards Boo Buie and Chase Audige. UCLA built up a 14-point lead in the first half thanks to 11 points from Amari Bailey, but a second-half push from the Wildcats, led by Audige, saw the lead evaporate. Nevertheless, a late three-pointer from David Singleton extended the lead to six, and the Bruins saw the game out the rest of the way, winning 68-63, with 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists from Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaime Jaquez Jr.
Sweet 16: UCLA vs. Gonzaga
The stage was set for a revenge game against #3 seed Gonzaga, who ended the Bruins’ 2021 Cinderella run with a heartbreaking 40-foot three from Jalen Suggs. Another hot start from the Bruins commenced in a 13-point lead heading into the second half. 13 first-half points from Amari Bailey saw the freshman continue his strong end to the season without Jaylen Clark, averaging 17.3 points since his injury, up from 11.2 during the regular season. However, the Gonzaga defense tightened in the second half; an 11-minute UCLA field goal drought and dominating interior play from Drew Timme (36 points, 13 rebounds) allowed the Zags to rally as they led by 9 with 1:23 to go. Jaquez Jr. sparked a 10-3 run to shrink the deficit to two, and following two missed free throws from Timme, Bailey hit a three to give the Bruins their first lead in over nine minutes. What followed could only be described as déjà vu for Bruin fans; a 35-foot three-pointer from Julian Strawther gave Gonzaga the lead for good, and the Bruins exited the tournament at the hands of Gonzaga once again, 79-76.
Future of UCLA MBB
The ending to the season felt like a massive disappointment due to Clark and Bona’s injuries, with UCLA’s legitimate title hopes crushed by the lack of Bona’s interior presence and Clark’s suffocating defense. The 2023-2024 roster is shrouded in uncertainty, as fans await the potential departures of many key players. At this moment, the only confirmed losses are David Singleton and Russell Stong, without another season of eligibility. However, Jaylen Clark recently announced he was declaring for the NBA draft, albeit without hiring an agent, meaning he still can return if he believes he can boost his draft stock with another year in college. Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell are both expected to declare for the draft as well, with both hinting at this being their final year despite an extra year of eligibility due to Covid-19. The biggest questions surround 5-star freshmen Adem Bona and Amari Bailey; both would likely be selected in the second round of this year’s draft if they declare, but returning to a team without Jaquez and Campbell would give them a much bigger role. Dylan Andrews will likely inherit Campbell’s starting point guard role and seems primed for a breakout due to his tenacious on-ball defense and athleticism. Kenneth Nwuba recently announced his return with his final year of eligibility. The incoming trio of 4-star recruits, guard Sebastian Mack and forwards Devin Williams and Brandon Williams, will likely play significant minutes due to the roster overhaul as well. Ultimately, Mick Cronin will look to the transfer portal to find significant contributors as he’s done in the past with Johnny Juzang (Kentucky) and Myles Johnson (Rutgers), and there are many interesting players in the portal. High-scoring wings Khalif Battle (Temple: 17.9 ppg), Dalton Knecht (Northern Colorado: 20.2 ppg), and Reese Dixon-Waters (USC: 9.8 ppg, Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year) are intriguing options for perimeter scoring. For the interior, 7 ’1 Hunter Dickinson (Michigan: 18.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg) and the #7 recruit in the Class of 2022, 7 ‘0 Kel’el Ware (Oregon) would be incredible additions, especially if Bona declares for the draft.
Pac-12 Freshman of the Week (2x), Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Pac-12 All-Freshman Team, Pac-12 All-Defensive Team
Pac-12 Freshman of the Week (4x), Pac-12 All-Freshman Team
Pac-12 Freshman of the Week
Jaime Jaquez Jr.
Pac-12 Player of the Week (3x), Pac-12 Player of the Year, First Team All-Pac-12, AP All-American Second Team, Lute Olson Player of the Year
Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Second Team All-Pac-12, Pac-12 All-Defensive Team, Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, NABC Defensive Player of the Year
John R. Wooden Pac-12 Coach of the Year
First Team All-Pac-12