Familiarity faces new faces on Friday.
The No. 8 UCLA Bruins will play the No. 19 Illinois Fighting Illini tonight in the opening round of the Continental Tire Main Event. They enter the game after a blowout victory over the Norfolk State Spartans (2-2), where Jaylen Clark impressed. The Bruins’ veterans will look to overpower the many transfers and freshman for the Illini.
Clark has been the most prominent piece for the Bruins during their 3-0 start, scoring 17.3 points per game while averaging 4.3 steals in each. He could be a major factor in tonight’s matchup, but also other experienced players such as Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, and David Singleton.
The trio of Bruins seniors has been steady, with Jaquez and Campbell starting, while Singleton has served as the sixth man. The group is playing their fourth season together, and their chemistry could prove costly for the Illini. However, the Illini’s transfer and freshman reliant team has meshed well together in three games.
The Bruins will look to slow down the pace; so far, they are ranked No. 179 in the country in possessions per game. However, the Illini could speed up the game as they are No. 33 in the same category. The well-oiled machine of the Bruins, playing steadily, could disrupt the Illini if they fail to be patient.
The Illini, however, may have an advantage in the paint, with Dain Dainja averaging 17.3 points and just under ten rebounds per game while playing an average of 19 minutes. Bruins freshman Adem Bona, known for his defensive prowess, could be tasked with shutting Dainja down. Kenneth Nwuba and Mac Etienne could also be mixed in under the basket. Foul trouble has been an issue for the Bruins’ big men, so they will look to avoid such problems tonight.
The enticing matchup will begin around 6:30 p.m. pacific standard time (PST) and air on ESPNU. Both teams are facing their mostly highly-regarded opponents of the season and will look to display their talents to the national audience.
The No. 5 Baylor Bears will take on No. 16 Virginia Cavaliers before the Bruins’ game, and the winners and losers of each contests will play each other on Sunday.