UCLA will look to keep up its hot start to the season, taking on non-conference mid-major foe Long Beach State in a surprise rivalry.
TV schedule: Monday, November 15, 11:00 pm ET. Pac-12 Network
Arena: Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, California
Just days after their monumental overtime win over Villanova, the UCLA Bruins will look to keep their hot start to the season alive, hosting the Long Beach State 49ers in a non-conference tilt – in a showdown that has, recently, given the Bruins a few shocks.
The Bruins and 49ers last met on Nov. 6, 2019, in the season-opener for both squads at Pauley Pavilion, where UCLA struggled to shut down a hot-shooting Long Beach State squad that – between three players – knocked down nine three-pointers en route to a 47.4% clip from beyond the arc. Despite trailing by six at halftime, the Bruins were able to narrowly escape the 49ers’ upset bid, 69-65, largely thanks to a massive differential in points off turnovers and fast breakpoints.
Both teams did not meet during the 2020-21 season, meaning there are decidedly some differences in rosters for both teams; UCLA’s star Johnny Juzang had not yet transferred, while all three of LBSU’s double-digit scorers from that game – Michael Carter (20), Chance Hunter (19), and Joshua Morgan (10) – all transferred out and are currently playing for other schools this season.
For Long Beach State, this may be a rebuilding season of sorts, particularly after going 6-12 during the COVID-shortened year in 2020-21 – but the 49ers do have a budding star as their floor general in Joel Murray, who impressed in LBSU’s Nov. 10th overtime win at Idaho.
Despite a 95-89 final that is not necessarily the most aspiring for Long Beach State, Murray – a Div. II transfer from West Texas A&M who started at point guard for a team that reached the Div. II National Championship game – shined, pouring in 28 points (12-18 2PT, 4-6 FT) to go with four boards, three assists, and three steals. Optimistically for LBSU was that Murray was just one of five double-digit scorers for the 49ers, with fellow starters Colin Slater, Jordan Roberts, and Joe Hampton all tallying 16 apiece, and Aboubacar Traore adding 11 off the bench.
UCLA, meanwhile, enters this showdown after cementing itself as one of the premier teams in all of college basketball this year – and showing that last season’s NCAA Tournament run was no fluke. Victors of a late-night overtime clash with Villanova, 86-77, the Bruins collected six first-place votes in the recently-unveiled week 1 AP Top 25 Poll, remaining in second overall, just behind top-ranked Gonzaga.
The Bruins saw four different players log double-figures against the Wildcats, including Juzang – who went off for a game-high 25 points – and Jaime Jaquez Jr., who was unconscious en route to 21 points (5-10 2PT, 2-4 3PT, 5-7 FT), 13 rebounds, and three assists. Jules Bernard and Tyger Campbell – both of whom started against LBSU the last time these two teams met two years ago – added 16 and 14 points, respectively.
The battle of guards will be the highlight of this match, and it may not be out of line to believe that Murray will lead all scorers – but what may ultimately be the dagger in the 49ers’ hopes is their woe in defending the perimeter. Against Idaho, LBSU was just 3-11 from beyond the arc – while Idaho was a whopping 15-31, with six different players nailing at least two three-pointers. UCLA, meanwhile, is shooting 43.1% (27th best in the nation) from beyond the arc – which includes 13-27 against Cal St. Bakersfield and 9-24 over Villanova.
Another key area to watch is inside, where the 49ers’ Roberts thrived against Idaho, logging a 16-point, 10-board double-double – whereas UCLA’s Myles Johnson, in his first two games since transferring from Rutgers, has struggled to make an impact, scoring just two points against both Cal St. Bakersfield and Villanova. Johnson will need to be effective inside, particularly to help counteract an LBSU team that shot 63.5% on two-pointers against Idaho.
This should be a win for the Bruins, but history indicates that the 49ers have the potential to hang around and threaten to usurp UCLA. This will need to be a game that UCLA puts away quickly, especially after building a stellar reputation after topping Villanova – or Long Beach State, with Murray at the helm, could play spoiler to the Bruins early-season heroics.