October 19, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Jake Kyman and UCLA are ready for another shot at USC

If Jonah Mathews created a moment to remember, Jake Kyman suffered through one to forget.

The screen that had freed him beyond the three-point arc with UCLA trailing USC by one point in the final minute. The pass heading toward him. His feet getting tangled, causing him to slip and fall as the ball sailed over his head out of bounds.

Everywhere he went in the offseason, Kyman carried the memory with him. He made sure it lingered no matter the pain, using it as motivation, as if the shots he took were a chance at a do-over.

The worst part was that he never got to take the shot that could have beaten the Trojans in March at Galen Center.

“I trust in my abilities and I know I would have made it if I didn’t slip and fall,” Kyman said Wednesday as No. 21 UCLA (13-3, 9-1) prepared for a rivalry rematch on the same court Saturday against USC (14-3, 8-2) with first place in the Pac-12 Conference standings on the line. “I believe we would have won that game.”

Bruins coach Mick Cronin acknowledged a few regrets of his own from his team’s 54-52 loss that erased its hopes of winning the Pac-12 regular-season title. If only he had a timeout left to set up his defense after forward Cody Riley made his second free throw to give UCLA a 52-51 lead. If only the Bruins could have gone into some sort of soft zone press. If only they had kept the ball out of Mathews’ hands before he lofted the three-pointer that gave the Trojans the victory and a season sweep of the Bruins.

“I lose sleep over everything, trust me,” Cronin said.

Cronin said he hadn’t discussed last season’s rivalry games with his current team because it has nothing to do with this season.

“Guys should be motivated to play regardless,” Cronin said. “You know, we’ve got a lot to play for, we’re trying to win a conference, we’re trying to get an NCAA tournament bid. We should be just as motivated if we had beat them last year.”

Beating USC for the first time since February 2019 will entail stopping freshman phenom Evan Mobley, the possible top pick in the NBA draft.

“He could easily go No. 1 because he’s got the biggest upside,” said Cronin, comparing Mobley to a younger version of Lakers star Anthony Davis only with a better offensive repertoire at the same point in their careers. “He can beat you in the low post, he can beat you in the high post, he can beat you on the offensive glass, he can beat you with the pass or with the shot.”

The best way to keep Mobley from inflicting damage is to keep the ball out of his hands, Cronin said, though it may be a challenge on par with preventing him from blocking the shots of those who challenge him at the rim.

Mobley is part of a long, athletic defense that leads the Pac-12 by holding its opponents to 38.2% shooting. Cronin said the Trojans’ bevy of rim protectors that also includes Isaiah Mobley and Chevez Goodwin allows their guards to close out hard on shooters because they know they have “erasers” behind them to clean up any defensive mistakes.

“Teams run good offense and get the ball point-blank and can’t score and that’s deflating,” Cronin said. “You’ve got to be able to power the ball up and in or you’ve got to be able to pass it out because you get your shot blocked, it’s like a turnover and you’re starting their fast break, so you just can’t throw crazy stuff up there.”

Feeling better

Junior guard Jules Bernard, who missed part of the Oregon State game last weekend with a bruised right knee that he sustained during a hard fall, said he was feeling good after returning to practice earlier this week.