LOS ANGELES — Pauley Pavilion went dark and a moment of silence was requested.
The jumbotron rolled highlights of former UCLA player Jalen Hill blocking shots and throwing down two-handed jams as a spotlight beamed toward center court, where Hill’s framed 24 jersey sat on an easel to honor his death as Hill’s mother, father, sister and family friend looked on.
“I thought the pregame ceremony was awesome. It’s unfortunate we had to have one,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “It’s still hard for us to process (Jalen’s death).”
Hill, 22, died in Costa Rica this past summer.
It was an emotional way to start a noon tipoff against Denver, a game No. 19 UCLA eventually won 87-64 on Saturday afternoon, thanks to the steady play of savvy veterans Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jaylen Clark.
The No. 24 resonated throughout the game. Clark had a season-high 24 points and UCLA’s defense forced 24 turnovers in the win.
“I attended the same high school as Jalen when I was a freshman, so I’ve been around him a lot,” Clark said of their time at Centennial High in Corona. “It’s crazy how fast life goes … . It puts a lot in perspective. Tomorrow isn’t promised.”
Jaquez finished with 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting in just 26 minutes. Clark’s 24 points came on 10-of-13 shooting with four rebounds and four steals in 23 minutes. Freshman Dylan Andrews added 11 points, five assists and four rebounds in a career-high 21 minutes.
David Singleton and Andrews started the second half in place of Tyger Campbell and Amari Bailey, despite the Bruins (9-2) leading 44-35 at halftime and forcing 12 Pioneers turnovers.
Cronin cited the attitude and body language of Bailey and Campbell, who was 0-for-4 from the 3-point line, for why they began the second half on the bench.
“I wasn’t happy with our energy when our shots didn’t go in,” Cronin said. “Our leaders can’t look like they lost their dog when their shots don’t go in. Which is what Dylan and Dave do, which is why they started the second half.”
Those 12 turnovers helped UCLA attempt 39 shots to Denver’s 21, but the Pioneers (8-3) did connect on four of six shots from beyond the arc that helped keep the margin manageable at the break. But a UCLA 17-0 run to start a second-half run, highlighted by a steal and dunk from Clark, created a 61-35 lead and the Bruins never looked back.
“We started hawking their point guard, he’s like the head of the snake,” Andrews said about the defense to start the second half. “It felt great to be out there for that.”
UCLA held Denver to just 10 points in the second half’s first 14 minutes and just 29 points for the half.
McCLENDON GETS REAL MINUTES
Redshirt freshman Will McClendon saw his first real action after sustaining an ACL injury last year that kept him sidelined. He played just 44 seconds against Oregon last weekend, but didn’t record a stat. Saturday, his presence was appreciated by UCLA fans, who were audibly anticipating his first points as a Bruin.
“It was so good to see (Will) out there,” Cronin said. “He hasn’t played a real game since his junior year in high school.”
In the first half, McClendon nabbed an offensive rebound that he quickly fired to Clark for a 3-pointer. As Clark’s shot was in flight, McClendon put his hands in the air. The shot fell straight through to give UCLA an early 12-3 lead, much to the crowd’s delight.
McClendon shot a corner 3-pointer in the second half that was just off the mark, prompting a huge gasp from the fans. The crowd finally got its chance to erupt when McClendon’s fourth shot attempt was good from beyond the arc with 5:54 left to give UCLA a 79-50 lead.
“It was big,” Clark said of McClendon finally playing. “Will and I pretty much grew up playing all-star (basketball) together. It’s good to see him overcome all he has. It is nice to finally get to see him get some shine.”
McClendon finished the game with three points on 1-of-6 shooting, two rebounds and an assist in 12 minutes.
UCLA will now travel to the East Coast for much tougher matchups at No. 13 Maryland on Wednesday and against No. 16 Kentucky on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York.