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Peyton Watson shines, but UCLA sputters in win over Bellarmine before showdown with Gonzaga

LAS VEGAS — Jaime Jaquez Jr. ripped the ball out of the hands of Bellarmine guard Dylan Penn, pushed the ball up the court and lobbed a pass toward the rim as hard-running freshman Peyton Watson was in stride to the left.

Watson leaped to catch the ball and threw it down for a thunderous dunk that provided a spark to what was otherwise an underwhelming atmosphere. It was the start of a breakout night for Watson, who finished with a career-high 19 points on 9-for-12 shooting off the bench to anchor UCLA’s 75-62 victory over Bellarmine on Monday night at T-Mobile Arena.

Watson’s point total, which came in just 20 minutes, was more than his season total coming into Monday’s game (13). David Singleton added 13 points, including three 3-pointers. Watson and Singleton scored 32 of the team’s 40 bench points after Johnny Juzang (13 points), Tyger Campbell (two), Jules Bernard (five) and Jaquez (six) shot a combined 11 for 40 from the field.

“Basketball is simple, you get what you deserve,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “Two guys today had great attitude, great practices: David Singleton and Peyton Watson. All you gotta do is look at the stat sheet.”

If broadcaster Dick Vitale was calling the game Monday, the entire arena would have heard his “Diaper Dandy!” catch-phrase to describe Watson’s performance among the smattering of clapping and one-person “De-fense!” chants. There wasn’t even one UCLA eight-clap.

But that won’t be the case when Vitale returns to the microphone for the first time this season while battling lymphoma to call Tuesday night’s showdown between the second-ranked Bruins and No. 1 Gonzaga (7 p.m., ESPN).

If there’s any value in comparing scores against common opponents, Gonzaga defeated Bellarmine, 92-50, on Friday in Spokane, Washington.

UCLA (5-0) didn’t shoot particularly well, and that led to Bellarmine having just a 10-point hill to climb with 2:08 left. But four straight baskets, including a corner 3-pointer from Bernard in the final minute kept the Knights (0-5) at bay.

“If we’re only going to be a great team when we make shots, we’re in deep trouble,” Cronin said.

The Bruins had just one made free throw (1 for 6) in the game to Bellarmine’s 13-for-13 showing. UCLA shot 45 percent from the field, including an 8-for-27 effort from the 3-point line.

It was an opening act for a game that has generated all the buzz this week: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 UCLA. But to Cronin, it was an act that fell flat on its face.

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