No. 20 Maryland men’s basketball is in the midst of a two-game losing streak and finishes a tough four-game stretch at home against No. 16 UCLA on Wednesday at 9 p.m.
Following the game, Maryland will have eight days off before it finishes its nonconference slate with two games against Saint Peters and UMBC, respectively. Then, it will be exclusively Big Ten competition for the Terps.
For now, Maryland’s attention is on another title-contending opponent in UCLA. The Terps started the season 8-0 with a signature win against then-No. 16 Illinois. After earning a ranking as the No. 13 team in the country, Maryland went 0-2 last week with losses to Wisconsin and then-No. 7 Tennessee.
Similar to Illinois a couple weeks ago, Wednesday’s game in College Park is expected to be an electric atmosphere, which will certainly help the Terps against a high-caliber opponent.
UCLA (8-2, 2-0 Pac-12)
Head coach Mick Cronin is in his fourth year at the helm of UCLA and has brought the program back to national prominence. This year is no different with UCLA posting one of the better rosters in the country.
Cronin has achieved postseason success in his first three years, too. In 2021, he brought his team to the Final Four, and last year, UCLA advanced to the Sweet 16 before it was knocked out of the tournament.
This season, UCLA entered the season with high expectations and has lived up to them. It has just two losses on the season, falling to then-No. 18 Illinois and then-No. 11 Baylor. Since its loss to Baylor, UCLA has rattled off five consecutive wins.
UCLA and Maryland going head-to-head is not a historically frequent event, but it will be moving forward. UCLA is leaving the Pac-12 following the 2023-24 season and entering the Big Ten, meaning the two historically great basketball programs will play at least once a year. The Terps will play the Bruins in Los Angeles next season.
Players to know
Jaime Jaquez Jr., senior guard/forward, six-foot-seven, No. 24 — Jaquez has been the Bruins’ most consistent scorer all season, leading the team in points per game with 17.4. Jaquez Jr. is mostly a threat near the basket and can penetrate the defense with dribble drives. He is also good at getting to the free throw line. Jacquez Jr. is capable of making a three but is struggling from beyond the arc this season, shooting just 26% from deep.
Jaylen Clark, junior guard, six-foot-five, No. 0 — Clark is another scoring threat for UCLA and can get his baskets anywhere on the floor. He’s averaging 15.1 points per game on 62% shooting. While he's not the 3-point threat some of his teammates are, like Tyger Campbell and David Singleton, he is shooting an impressive 45% from deep on just 22 attempts on the season.
Amari Bailey, freshman guard, six-foot-five, No. 5 — Bailey was a highly-touted prospect out of high school and decided to stay in his home state of California to play college basketball. He’s lived up to the billing in the early part of his freshman season, averaging just under 11 points per game. While there have been hiccups at times, he also has the second-most assists on the team.
Generating turnovers. UCLA is holding opponents to 63.3 points per game, but the most impressive part about its defense is its ability to generate turnovers. The Bruins force 17.6 turnovers per game and score 22 points per game off turnovers. That doesn’t bode well for a Maryland team that has struggled with turnovers at times this season.
Depth. Cronin plays eight guys consistently in his rotation but only receives significant contributions from six players. Maryland deals with similar issues. In a game as competitive as this one has the potential to be, rotations might be tightened anyway, but UCLA has had limited bench contributions this season, particularly from the backcourt.
Three things to watch
1. Can Julian Reese play physical and stay out of foul trouble? Reese’s dominant start to the season provided optimism to Terp fans. However, many of those games were against less physical opponents. As the schedule has become more challenging, Reese has not been nearly as dominant. He has still racked up points in Maryland’s last two games but rarely shows any ability of generating points on designed post touches. He also has committed four fouls in each of the last three games. Reese needs to be more disciplined on defense, especially given the lack of front court depth Maryland has.
2. Can Maryland get off to a better shooting start? Before Maryland’s loss to Tennessee on Sunday, Willard remarked about how his team has got off to slow shooting starts all season. Then, his group went out and made just three shots in the first 20 minutes for a season-low 17 points in the first half. Willard was matter-of-fact following the game, saying they need to practice shooting and that Maryland needs to win the 3-point battle to win games. Against UCLA, the Terps will be in trouble if they dig themselves a hole early with poor shooting.
3. What will the shot selection look like? Willard may be right that his team isn’t physical enough to win games inside and it will be essential to win the 3-point shooting war, but that doesn’t mean Maryland should rely on the three more than it needs to. Maryland’s at its best offensively when it is trying to get to the rim, putting pressure on the defense and kicking out for open threes. In the first half against Tennessee, 66% of Maryland’s shots were threes and it scored 17 points. In the second half, 29% of Maryland’s attempts were from three and it scored 36 points. Maryland certainly needs to shoot the ball better from deep, but it also should have a balanced offensive approach and not rely on threes more than it needs to.