Jaime Jaquez Jr. is still two weeks away from turning 19, but he has been out on the court more than any other Bruin.
Coach Mick Cronin has finally settled on a regular starting lineup midway through his first season with UCLA men’s basketball (12-10, 5-4 Pac-12), and the freshman guard/forward – who came off the bench in his first seven games – has become a mainstay. Jaquez’s 32 minutes per game over his last six appearances lead the Bruins during that stretch, and he said he has had to work harder than ever to make sure the increased playing time doesn’t bite back.
“I try to get in here early, I try to foam roll, get treatment whenever I can,” Jaquez said. “Drinking a lot of water is a big thing, so I don’t drink any soda or anything like that, just try to drink water, the protein shakes they give me.”
In his first nine starts in a UCLA jersey, Jaquez averaged 10.3 points in 28.7 minutes per game. But since losing to USC on Jan. 11, the freshman has yet to score in single digits and is averaging 13.5 points per game.
But while Jaquez has been a starter ever since UCLA’s matchup with then-No. 3 Michigan State on Nov. 27, sophomore guard David Singleton is a much more recent addition to the starting five.
Singleton posted more than 20 minutes three times in his first 15 games this season, but he has done so in six straight games since joining the starting lineup against Stanford on Jan. 15. Cronin has used the same five-man set of Jaquez, Singleton, junior guard Chris Smith, redshirt sophomore forward/center Jalen Hill and redshirt freshman guard Tyger Campbell starting with that game, and UCLA is 4-2 since.
Smith said the constancy of the Bruins’ lineup has helped the starting five gel – part of the reason why they’ve held opponents to 65.5 points per game since Jan. 15.
“It’s showing in the games,” Smith said. “Defensively, if you’re not a unit, you’re not going to hold people to the points that we’ve been holding them to recently, so I think for sure, we’re coming together, we’re clicking finally.”
Campbell said the recent stretch of wins has given UCLA new life both in practice and in games, but stressed the importance of not getting too comfortable moving forward.
“Yeah, there’s a different energy,” Campbell said. “We’re winning so we’re all excited, we’re all geeked up, but we’re not trying to get too high on it so we’re just trying to stay locked in and practice.”
Campbell left the Oregon game early with an injury, only managing to get six minutes of playing time before his day was cut short. The point guard returned to post 27 minutes against then-No. 20 Colorado and 34 minutes against Utah on Thursday and Sunday, respectively.
Cronin said he has taken it upon himself to manage Jaquez’s and Campbell’s loads for them, temporarily pulling them out of practice and drills when he thinks they’re getting overworked.
“Hey look – everybody genetically is different,” Cronin said. “Some guys can handle more than others, so as a college coach, you can control load management because you practice more than you play versus the pros, … but you’ve got a young kid playing all those minutes, it’s hard.”