Mick Cronin and Tyger Campbell have been in lockstep since Cronin’s arrival nearly four years ago, the feisty coach and his fiery point guard sticking together through nearly every conceivable situation.
Campbell helped spark UCLA’s resurgence on its way to a Final Four, earning Cronin’s trust and the benefit of every doubt even when he endured prolonged struggles.
Their unbreakable bond made what happened Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion stunning.
Campbell began the second half on the bench alongside fellow starting guard Amari Bailey. Cronin presumably did not like their energy and execution as the Bruins fell behind to Stanford by eight points on their home court.
But Campbell would help his team have the final say. After reentering the game, he buried a deep three-pointer. He forced a turnover after getting Cardinal point guard Michael O’Connell to dribble the ball off his own body with pressure defense.
With the Cardinal refusing to go away, Campbell found Will McClendon for a three-pointer. Campbell then made a mid-range jumper to extend the advantage.
The flurry of highlights offset his early malaise while helping the fourth-ranked Bruins hold on for a 73-64 victory that extended their home winning streak to 22 games. Campbell walked off the court with his arm around backup Dylan Andrews’ waist after they had exchanged celebratory hand slaps.
All was forgiven after Campbell finished with seven points and two assists for UCLA (22-4 overall, 13-2 Pac-12), which outscored the Cardinal 46-33 over the final 20 minutes.
The second half was a series of huge runs. Stanford (11-15, 5-10) appeared to retake control thanks to a 12-0 push that gave it a 50-45 lead before Bruins forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. made a variety of tough shots around the basket. Jaylen Clark finally pushed the Bruins into a 58-57 lead when he drove for a dunk that Jaquez followed with two free throws.
McClendon’s three-pointer nudged UCLA into a 63-59 lead that only grew from there. In another performance that boost his candidacy for Pac-12 player of the year, Jaquez finished with 26 points and nine rebounds.
The ending looked a lot different from the start and the middle.
Things were so off-kilter for the Bruins in the first half that Campbell went scoreless while playing only 10 minutes and Jaquez missed consecutive free throws. With Campbell and Bailey on the bench to start the second half, their backups keyed a 16-5 surge, David Singleton making a three-pointer and Andrews contributing an old-fashioned three-point play and an assist.
The Bruins were intent on avoiding what would have been described as their first bad loss of the season.
All four of UCLA’s defeats this season have been of the Quad 1 variety, meaning there’s not a bad loss in the bunch. Quad 1 games are those involving teams with a NCAA Evaluation Tool ranking of one to 15 at home, one to 50 at a neutral site or one to 75 on the road.
Meanwhile, the Bruins entered Thursday with a tidy 17-0 record in Quad 2, 3 and 4 games against lesser competition.
UCLA’s resume provided an interesting contrast to that of Arizona, the Pac-12 rival the Bruins are jockeying with for a top seed in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats’ 6-2 record in Quad 1 games entering Thursday compared favorably to the Bruins’ 4-4 record in those games, but Arizona also had one Quad 2 loss and a Quad 3 marring its record.
Some clarity on which types of wins — and losses — the NCAA tournament selection committee values most could come Saturday when it reveals its top 16 seeds on national television.
When UCLA and Stanford met in early December, the Bruins rolled off the first 17 points on the way to a comfortable victory. UCLA scored the first three points Thursday before the similarities ended there.
But what will go down as one of the oddest games of Campbell’s career ended on a happy note, his team notching a fifth consecutive victory thanks to his reverting to familiar form over the final minutes.