Eighth-ranked UCLA will tip off its 2022-23 season with high expectations when it hosts Sacramento State on Monday night in Los Angeles.
After an improbable run from the First Four to the Final Four in 2021, UCLA opened last season as a favorite to contend for its record 12th national championship and first since 1995.
However, an injury-plagued season that included this year’s preseason All-American, Jaime Jaquez Jr., dealing with repeated ankle issues saw the Bruins exit the NCAA Tournament with a Sweet 16 loss to eventual runner-up North Carolina.
Despite his nagging injuries over the final two months of the season, Jaquez averaged 13.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game a season ago — both tops among returning Bruins.
UCLA also welcomes back point guard Tyger Campbell, who averaged 11.9 points and 4.3 assists per game. Campbell and veteran role player David Singleton shot north of 40 percent from 3-point range at 41 and 45.1, respectively, powering one of the nation’s most efficient offenses of the 2021-22 season.
The Bruins ranked No. 12 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom.com metrics.
Along with the veteran corps, UCLA features one of the most celebrated freshman classes in the country, with 247Sports 5-star prospects Amari Bailey and Adem Bona. Look for both to be immediate contributors.
“I’m a baby on the team, so I’m still getting acclimated,” Bailey said at the team’s media availability. “I’m really just trying to soak up as much as I can, being a sponge to a team that’s been really far already.”
Bailey called his defense — a longtime calling card of UCLA coach Mick Cronin — “a work in progress.”
Last season, the Bruins ranked No. 18 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.
UCLA’s opening-night opponent, Sacramento State, comes in looking to make a splash in David Patrick’s first game as head coach.
Patrick takes over a team picked to finish sixth in the 10-team Big Sky Conference. The Hornets return Zach Chappell, a 36 percent 3-point shooter a season ago who averaged almost 12 points per game.
Otherwise, Sacramento State will begin the new season leaning on some new contributors to emerge. Among them is Gianni Hunt, a transfer from Oregon State who played a key role off the bench on the Beavers’ 2021 Elite Eight team.
Big man Hunter Marks averaged more than 11 points per game a season ago at Hartford, and Quadry Adams joins the Hornets from St. Bonaventure.
“For my staff and my players, they know what UCLA is, the tradition,” Patrick told ESPN Radio Sacramento on Tuesday. “I think it’s important — obviously we’re playing UCLA — but going down there and telling them the history of the players before.
“Also, have a ton of respect for coach Cronin and his team,” Patrick added. “But at the same time, go in there and really compete.”
UCLA and Sacramento State last played in 2013, a meeting the Bruins won 86-50. UCLA is 2-0 all-time against the Hornets, with the other matchup occurring in 2005.
-Field Level Media