UCLA opens men’s basketball season at San Diego State in good litmus test

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The COVID-19 pandemic halted the UCLA men’s basketball team’s late season run, including 11 wins in the last 14 games last season. Unfortunately, the Pac-12 Conference tournament was never played and March Madness had nothing to do with basketball.

About eight months later, the Bruins wonder if they can pick up where they left off in Wednesday night’s season opener at San Diego State, where coach Mick Cronin sees a chance for his number 22-ranked Bruins.

“The good thing about playing in San Diego State is that you immediately find out what you’re made of,” Cronin said of the opener.

San Diego State comes off a 30-2 season and returns with a bevy of veteran players, culminating in the front line with all the returning starters. The Aztecs saw their best player, Malachi Flynn, be called up 29th overall in last week’s NBA draft for the Toronto Raptors, but have a new point guard in Cal State Northridge graduate Terrell Gomez.

Gomez averaged 37 minutes per game for the Matadors, bringing in 19.8 points per game last season, including 111 3-pointers on a 44% clip.

“Anyone who shoots the ball as good as he does is going to be a matchup problem,” Cronin said.

Speaking of the game, Cronin is the first to compliment the Aztecs and share his concerns about his Bruins. It’s his way of staying humble.

“The media chose us to win our conference,” he said. “I’m afraid the players think this gives us a God-given right to victory. Last January we were in last place, now we have been chosen to win our conference – that is mentally frightening to me. ”

Clark, Juzang is going to make his debut

The starting line-up for UCLA is likely to feature newcomer Johnny Juzang, a transfer from Kentucky. Freshman Jaylen Clark is also expected to make his debut from the couch.

Known for his offensive prowess, Juzang is expected to take shots, especially from outside the arc. The Clark’s defensive services will be required if UCLA wants to keep last year’s trend intact. The Bruins were 18-1 last season when they held opponents at 73 points or less.

“I keep telling my boys it won’t be easy to score, (San Diego State) is as defensive as anyone you meet – they’ve proven that for years,” Cronin said.

The planned starting line-up looks something like this: Tyger Campbell, Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Chris Smith and Jalen Hill. The veteran San Diego State front line could call on Cody Riley to potentially start in place of Jaquez Jr.

Game notes

This is the first meeting between UCLA and SDSU since December 1, 2012 at the Honda Center in Anaheim in the John R. Wooden Classic. The Bruins fell 78-69. …

UCLA is 6/15 all time against SDSU. …

The game is the last the program has ever opened a season since November 29, 2003 under Ben Howland. UCLA pushed off Vermont 68-67.