If UCLA (27-4 straight up, 18-12 against the spread) is going to bag its first national title since 1995, it is going to have to do so without one of its best players. Junior guard Jaylen Clark has been ruled out for the rest of the season due to an Achilles injury.
Stadium’s Jeff Goodman was the first to report the news on Wednesday.
Clark has started in 29 of 30 games he’s played in for the Bruins this year. He’s averaging 13.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 1.9 assists per game. Clark has made 48.1 percent of his field-goal attempts, hit 32.9 percent of his 3-pointers and buried 69.8 percent of his free throws.
His presence will be missed at both ends of the court. Clark is UCLA’s second-leading scorer, but he’ll be missed more defensively. His length and athleticism make him a versatile defender, one who can defend all five positions.
In fact, Clark is a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award. He’s also the Pac-12’s leader in steals. Clark’s play defensively has been the catalyst behind UCLA ranking second nationally in defense in KenPom’s ratings.
Mick Cronin’s squad won its 10th consecutive game in its regular-season finale this past Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, beating Arizona 82-73 as a 5.5-point home favorite. Clark was forced to leave the game after sustaining the injury, but he had already contributed 11 points and four steals in just 15 minutes of playing time.
When Jim Harrick’s 1995 UCLA team beat Arkansas, the defending national champion who had beaten Duke and Grant Hill in the finals on Scottie’s Thurman’s game-winning 3-ball from the left wing in Charlotte, in the finals to win it all, it did so with star point guard Tyus Edney spending all but three minutes on the bench nursing a sore ankle sprain.
True freshman Cam Dollar, a product of Atlanta Southside High School who absolutely destroyed me on the court at B/C All-Star Camp in the summer of 1991, was the catalyst. Dollar stepped in for Edney, who had driven the length of the court with 4.8 seconds left to down Missouri with a game-winning shot at the buzzer in the Round of 32, and played a masterful floor game (eight assists and four steals compared to three turnovers) in breaking Nolan Richardson’s full-court press in UCLA’s 89-78 win over the Razorbacks.
The two Bruins who are most likely to see increased minutes without Clark are David Singleton and freshman Dylan Andrews. Singleton, who averages 9.4 PPG and makes 43.4 percent of his treys, will probably move into the starting lineup. Andrews, who plays an average of only 10:18 minutes per game, averages 3.1 points, 1.1 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game.
UCLA isn’t a deep team and without Clark, its rotations get even shorter. With the 10-game winning streak, the Bruins were almost certainly looking at being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Without him, the selection committee could alter its view of Cronin’s club.
The committee will have the Pac-12 Tournament to consider that evaluation. That starts for the Bruins today when they face Colorado at 3:00 p.m. Eastern in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Center. As of early this morning, most books had UCLA installed as a nine-point favorite.