Chico State falls to No. 2 UCLA in first game after canceled COVID season

Chico+State+guard+Isaiah+Brooks+dribbles+the+ball+down+the+court+for+Chico+State%2C+during+a+game+against+UCLA+at+the+Pauley+Pavilion.

Connor McPherson

Chico State guard Isaiah Brooks dribbles the ball down the court for Chico State, during a game against UCLA at the Pauley Pavilion.

UCLA’s defense told the tale at the Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, as the No. 2 Bruins defeated the Wildcats 100-61 in an exhibition Thursday night. 

Waves of excitement were felt throughout the Pauley Pavilion as Chico State Men’s Basketball jumped straight into their first competitive game in 608 days. 

Forward Malik Duffy talked about the excitement he felt when the team warmed up and awaited tip-off. 

“I was a little nervous, not gonna lie, we haven’t played a team in over two years,” Duffy said. “Playing a team like UCLA coming off of a Final Four, for that to be our first game was very nerve racking but exciting at the same time.”

Duffy said it was bittersweet for him, because it’s his final year playing with the Wildcats, and probably his last time competing against a Division I opponent. 

This game was also a big milestone because fans were allowed into the Pauley Pavilion since February 2020, when the pandemic forced Pac-12 teams to play in front of empty stadiums. 

Guard Isaiah Brooks discussed the differences between playing at Chico State compared to a packed Pauley Pavilion.

“We don’t have this arena that a lot of these high-major, mid-major Division I’s have,” Brooks said. “The feeling [at Pauley Pavilion] is just electric.” 

The game started out with a traveling violation on the first possession, and an offensive foul before the Wildcats scored their first bucket. However, after giving up a 6-0 lead to start the game, Chico State quickly settled in, cutting the lead to 9-7.

A media timeout was taken five minutes into the game and UCLA took advantage, expanding their lead to double-digits. By the end of the first half, the Bruins took a 41-23 lead, winning the turnover battle 12-5.

UCLA seemed to have fine-tuned its performance by the start of the second half, taking a 54-31 lead, causing Chico State to take their third time out. As the half progressed, UCLA held a steady 20+ point lead, and it never waned. 

The Bruins’ defense and size gave them a huge advantage, blocking 10 shots and getting eight steals, while forcing 16 total turnovers. UCLA also controlled the game inside, scoring 44 of their points in the paint. Head coach Greg Clink admitted that they needed to work on some weaknesses in the Wildcats’ play, but added that the game will help prepare the team for play within their conference. 

“When you play a team as good as this, they expose your weaknesses; they’ll show you what you need to get better at,” Clink said. “That’s the biggest takeaway from me. To be able to go back and look at film and see defensively what we need to get better at, and to see what offensively we need to clean up.”

Despite the loss, Chico State had some bright spots, including play from Duffy. He played 29 minutes and led the team in scoring and rebounding, with 18 points and seven rebounds. 

Duffy said staying positive about his play always helps his performance.

“Confidence is a big thing for me,” Duffy said. “Once I saw a couple shots go in I got a little more confidence, got in a little rhythm, and just kept trying to do my thing.”

Brooks and Kevin Warren also played well for the Wildcats, each with their own contributions to the team. Warren scored 11, adding on three assists and a couple steals, while Brooks scored 10 on 4-for-5 shooting, grabbing two rebounds and passing for three assists. Brooks is staying optimistic and hoping to cut down opposing teams’ runs in their upcoming games.

“They went on some big runs and things weren’t going our way,” Brooks said. “I think that the biggest thing is that when things aren’t going our way we stay together and stay strong, and we stay as one unit and don’t individualize ourselves.”

In the closing minutes of the game, sophomore Dylan Belquist was seen limping off the floor. However, Clink was optimistic, saying that he doesn’t think it’s anything major.

“I think he’s fine,” Clink said. “He’s being evaluated, but I don’t think it’s anything serious.”

The Wildcats will head to Pomona next weekend in the Conference Crossover Challenge, and will take on Azusa Pacific Friday and Seattle Pacific on Saturday.

Connor McPherson can be reached at orionmanaginged[email protected] or @theGOATmcphers1 on Twitter.