The rumble that had filled the long-empty arena disappeared in an agonizing instant.
Cody Riley fell to the court during a scramble for the ball in the middle of the first half, the UCLA forward in a red shirt grabbed his left knee in agony. The fans inside the Pauley Pavilion collectively groaned and fell silent.
A coach helped Riley stretch his knee before the big Bruins slowly left the pitch as fans chanted his name. Whatever happened next in the first match of the season, UCLA runner-up against Cal State Bakersfield on Tuesday night seemed marginal to the assessment of the team’s rapidly dwindling frontcourt.
Redshirt freshman striker Mac Etienne has already been lost – likely for a season – to an alleged ACL rupture in his left knee, a second ACL injury the Bruins suffered after freshman defender Will McClendon was defeated in preseason training with that same problem. …
As he kicked off his most anticipated season in more than a decade, seven months after completing his run from the First Four to the Final Four, the last thing UCLA needed was another player who fell with a serious knee injury. A team spokesman announced shortly after Riley made his way to the dressing room that he would not be returning during a possible 95-58 win.
Riley’s departure left the UCLA game in the exclusive hands of alumnus Miles Johnson and red-shirt junior Kenneth Nwuba. Johnson showed good performance with five rebounds and two blocks, while Nvuba dunked and blocked two shots during a spirited off-bench play.
Any extended absence from Riley will deprive the team of one of the most hardworking and brave players. UCLA coach Mick Cronin described Riley as a “warrior” for being able to overcome the lingering pain of a serious ankle injury late last season.
Before Riley lost, the Bruins’ first regular season game in front of their home fans since February 29, 2020 was definitely more optimistic.
The fun started about 20 minutes before the start of the game: UCLA freshman Peyton Watson confirmed the roll call of the students with a swing and bounce, which he threw himself into a dunk with one hand.
Johnny Juzang, the team’s breakout star at the NCAA tournament, had his students call him by his name so many times that they might have thought he was ignoring them before finally raising his hand in the air.
Johnson, a rookie who recently admitted that pre-game traditions took him by surprise last week during an exhibition game, was ready this time with both of his massive arms raised in the air with a smile.
The Bruins were back and they were poised to rock the crowd, which included UCLA legend Jamaal Wilkes as well as former Bruin and current Laker Trevor Ariza.
Juzang and Jules Bernard topped the Bruins with 19 points each, while Jaime Hakes Jr. added 14 points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one interception in a massive effort across the board.
Bruins sophomore Jaylen Clarke, who missed the team’s show with concussion symptoms, showed that he was doing well with 10 points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes. Among his highlights are Nvube’s overhang and a driving idle in which he was fouled when falling onto the court, indicating with his hand that the basket was scored.
Watson survived several rookie moments, missing his first seven shots and hitting three spins, and also showed off his otherworldly length and athleticism. He recovered from one game in which he appeared to be able to block a kick from behind and maintained a fast lead by saving the ball out of bounds.
At the end of the second half, Watson scored his first basket on an alley corner and finished with seven points, five rebounds, two blocks and an interception.
UCLA has remained in the same starting lineup as in the Final Four last season. Riley has garnered accolades in addition to defenders Juzang, Bernard, Hakes and Tiger Campbell.
As if to reinforce the team’s inflated expectations, Campbell, Hakes, and Juzang were previously included in the preseason roster for the John R. Wooden Player of the Country Award. UCLA has joined Gonzaga and Kansas as the only teams to have three players on their 50-player preseason roster.
Riley sat on the bench in a white shirt and blue pants during the second half, his clothing reminiscent of the team’s fickleness once again, no matter how deep and experienced she is.