Shoot or pass? Either works for UCLA's Tyger Campbell if it leads to a win

UCLA guard Tyger Campbell brings the ball up the floor while playing Oregon during the second half.
UCLA guard Tyger Campbell controls the ball during a win over Oregon on Sunday. Campbell is hoping to see a shot resurgence in the games ahead for the Bruins. (John McCoy / Associated Press)

Asked to transform the way he plays, becoming a high-volume shooter in addition to a steady facilitator, Tyger Campbell hasn’t completely changed his stripes.

The UCLA point guard still favors the play that best helps his team.

“If there was one stat that I prioritize,” Campbell said this week, “it’s winning.”

His team has done plenty of that since leaving Las Vegas last month with two losses against nationally ranked opponents. The No. 19 Bruins (7-2) have rolled off four consecutive victories, including two to open Pac-12 Conference play, heading into another nonconference game against Denver (8-2) on Saturday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion.

Campbell has logged some triumphs and setbacks of his own in his new role. The fifth-year senior is averaging a career-high 13.9 points along with 4.9 assists per game, the latter number up a few ticks from 4.3 assists last season. His scoring average is third on the team, trailing only Jaylen Clark (14 points per game) and Jaime Jaquez Jr. (17.3).

Then there's the flip side. Campbell's shooting percentage and turnovers have both experienced a downturn.

“The shots haven’t been falling at the highest level right now,” said Campbell, who is making 35.6% of his three-pointers, down from last season’s 41% breakthrough, “but every shot I take feels good.”

Far more concerning is that Campbell’s average of 2.2 turnovers would be a career worst if it held up over the rest of the season.

“He's had a few late-game turnovers, a travel the other day [against Oregon], an errant pass, an ill-advised pass against Stanford, those are things he's better at, he knows better than that,” coach Mick Cronin said. “I'd be shocked if that happens the rest of the year, but I think the shooting percentage will go up. That's just all part of him getting comfortable in his new role and me helping him with that.”

Cronin acknowledged asking Campbell to do too much against Oregon last weekend after Jaquez went to the bench early in the first half with two fouls. By halftime, Campbell had missed all eight of his shots and committed one turnover with no assists while appearing completely out of sorts.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin, right, talks with guard Tyger Campbell during a game against Bellarmine on Nov. 27.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin, right, talks with guard Tyger Campbell during a game against Bellarmine on Nov. 27. (Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

“I should’ve done things to make sure we had more ball movement,” Cronin said. “It wasn’t him, it was me calling his number and putting a lot of pressure on him. So like I said, it’s a process for both of us.”

Campbell sparked a second-half comeback by making four of seven shots, including two of three three-pointers, on the way to the Bruins’ 65-56 victory, showing that he retained the ability to make winning plays.

This isn’t the first time Campbell has been asked to shoulder the scoring load. He did it in middle school and early in his high school career.

“I have it in me,” he said, “it’s just kind of just hooping.”

Cronin said he expected Campbell’s shooting percentages to soar once he learned to take open shots instead of contested ones that forced him to rush his release before he could set his feet.

Campbell vowed to keep watching film in search of tendencies that could maximize his success.

“Just try to make the best play for my team every time,” Campbell said, “whether that’s me scoring or assisting or even getting off the ball and out of the way and letting someone else work.”

Final Fours up?

After UCLA designated Ben Howland as its honorary captain last weekend, fans showering the former coach who once took the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours with a standing ovation, Cronin said he wasn’t opposed to the school raising Final Four banners inside Pauley Pavilion to accompany its 11 national championships.

“The problem in our arena,” Cronin said, “is there's not enough room, you know?”

While saying he could see both sides of the argument, Cronin acknowledged that it was much harder to reach the Final Four today than when the NCAA tournament invited only 16 teams.

Cronin said a more important conundrum involved honoring UCLA players such as Don MacLean who didn't have their jerseys retired.

“You’re the all-time leading scorer in the Pac-12 and the all-time leading scorer for the school,” Cronin said. “To not have your jersey retired, like to me, that’s the big issue. I’m sure there's 25, 30 other guys, that if they had their same career at other schools, their jersey would be — but we wouldn't have any numbers” left for players.

One possible workaround, Cronin said, would be adopt the Louisville model of having honored jerseys in addition to retired ones.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.