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No. 8 UCLA men’s basketball tops Norfolk State led by Jaylen Clark

No. 8 UCLA men’s basketball tops Norfolk State led by Jaylen Clark

LOS ANGELES — Each time the UCLA men’s basketball team runs onto the floor, there’s a feeling that, maybe, another player will steal the show. It’s what UCLA fans have been used to the last two seasons. One night it was Johnny Juzang, another it was Jules Bernard or Jaime Jaquez Jr.

However, in UCLA’s first three games this season, the star of the show has been Jaylen Clark – all three resulting in home victories – including Monday night’s 86-56 win over visiting Norfolk State, which is the best team eighth-ranked UCLA has faced in the infancy of this 2022-23 campaign.

Norfolk State (2-2) earned an NCAA Tournament berth last year and played No. 5 Baylor within 20 points last week. Guard Christian Ings posterized 6-foot-10 Adem Bona early in the game that even had UCLA fans ooh-ing and aah-ing. But thanks to Clark’s career-high night from beyond the arc, the Bruins put the game out of reach later in the opening half.

“I feel like half of it is confidence,” Clark said of his much-improved shooting. “But the real answer is work. Shooting everyday, after practice, after film, after walk throughs, off days, on days. I’m shooting everyday, getting up at least 700 shots (on the shooting machine).”

Clark clinched a career-best five made 3-pointers (out of eight attempts) to anchor his team-high 19-point, nine-rebound and two-steal performance. His original career mark was just two before making his third 3 with 3:41 left in the opening half. It was the back end of two straight 3-pointers from UCLA (3-0), the first coming from David Singleton.

Clark had just one made 3-pointer in his first 13 games last season.

“Jaylen has worked really hard, he really has,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin on Clark’s shooting. “We believe in player development. Tyger (Campbell) was not a shooter, now he is. Jaylen Clark was not a shooter, now he is. Those are two guys that were willing to make fundamental adjustments to the way they shoot th ball.”

Tyger Campbell rained in a 3 of his own to create a comfortable 46-33 UCLA lead at halftime.

It’s the second time in three games Clark has notched a career-high in single-game best efforts. In the team’s season opener he had seven steals. The first basket of the second half was a Clark 3-pointer, his fourth of the game. He had 16 points with more than 19 minutes to play in the second frame.

Clark had just eight defensive deflections Monday night after tallying 16 and 14, respectively, the first two games.

“He’s back to mere mortal numbers,” Cronin said.

Clark is still tracking the single-season record for steals, 95. He has 13 through three games.

“I got two tonight. I’m still on pace,” Clark said with a grin.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. had 12 points. Singleton and Campbell each had 11 points. Bona added 11 points, five rebounds and two blocks.

UCLA’s largest lead of the game was 32 points, when it was 69-37 at the 8:48-mark in the second half.

Monday night also marked freshman Amari Bailey’s most comfortable game. He had scored 10 and 14 points in UCLA’s first two games, respectively. But the rhythm he displayed in game three was new. More instinct, less thinking.

The 5-star recruit converted his first collegiate 3-pointer (after missing his first three attempts this season), had a breakaway dunk, and was the oiled cog in an offensive machine that saw UCLA shoot  57% from the field, including 11-of-25 (44%) from beyond the arc.

“I slowed down, didn’t try and do too much, and let the game come to me,” Bailey said. “I was just reading the defense, honestly.”

Bailey finished with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting with five assists.

“I told Amari after the first game, ‘you’re not a freshman anymore,” Jaquez said. “He’s in the starting lineup for a reason because he knows what we’re looking for, and he brings that to the table. He’s been tremendous for us.”

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