Peter Suder Bellarmine UCLA

UCLA forward Adem Bona, left, vies for a loose ball with guard Amari Bailey, right, against Bellarmine guard Peter Suder during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Bellarmine men’s basketball team is having the trip of a lifetime: road games at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Pauley Pavilion and Rupp Arena, all in an eight-day span. A playing tour of some of college basketball's most hallowed arenas is the kind of experience that not even money can buy.

And that’s just from the medical bills.

In a pregame practice at UCLA in preparation for Sunday’s game against the No. 19-ranked Bruins, the Knights had three players go down to injuries in a 10-minute span. Juston Betz, team captain and the team’s leading rebounder and assist man, took a knee to the shoulder and could not go in Sunday’s game. Nick Thelen, who had been working his way back toward more playing time, suffered a knee injury.

Minutes later, Zac Jennings dove for a loose ball at midcourt and separated his shoulder. Before trainer Brad Bluestone could get the shoulder put back in, Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport said Jennings was asking if he got possession.

Beyond those injuries, Davenport already had sat starters Peter Suder (leading scorer, injured thumb) and center Kurt Hopf (bruised sternum, playing heavily padded) out as precautions.

So what did Bellarmine’s walking wounded do against UCLA on Sunday? At the under 8 timeout, the Knights were down 10, and missed two chances to cut the lead more when they missed a free-throw and could not get two good 3-point looks to go down. The Knights lost 81-60, but Davenport immediately picked his team back up.

“I can't describe my level of respect, appreciation and admiration for (UCLA coach) Mick Cronin,” Davenport said. “He's a son of a coach. He's a coach, and they reflect, they are a reflection of their coach. That pressure was extraordinary. We couldn't simulate that with seven guys. But we adjusted. We never quit.”

UCLA was well-versed in Bellarmine’s style, and is likely the fastest team Bellarmine will play all year -- unless Kentucky proves to be faster on Tuesday. Bellarmine simply couldn’t get its usual shots in the paint. It wound up taking more than half its shots (32 out of 54) from 3-point range, something it generally would not do, but Davenport credited UCLA’s defensive pressure for that.

“I thought top to bottom, everybody learned today,” Davenport said. “Here's what I said to them after the game, and you can take this quote to the bank. There's not going to be one, ‘What if?’ What if we'd have made this free throw? What if we'd have made this defensive stop? All our focus is tonight when we walk out of Pauley Pavilion and we walk through that hotel is going to be how are we going to learn from Duke, from Clemson? How are we going to learn from Louisville? How are we going to learn from UCLA? It's what's going to be. We're not saying what if? That's out. They're smart young men. They realize that. I had 17 heads bobbling and looking like a bobble head when I was saying that, all like, 'Yes, yes, yes.' That's how we left the locker room.”

UCLA wasn’t 100 percent either. The Bruins were missing second-leading scorer and top rebounder Jalen Clark, who was out with an illness.

“I knew coach Davenport was going to have his guys ready,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “He needs to evaluate his scheduling, my close friend. You play at Louisville, at Duke, at Clemson, at Loyola Marymount, at UCLA, I don’t like his chances. But look how hard his kids played. If you respect the game, watching them play is refreshing, in my opinion. Preparing for it makes you a better team, because you have to defend the whole clock. You have to have pressure on the ball and active hands and communication or they’re going to pick you apart. . . . They make you get better. Our passing was off the charts. Part of the reason I like to play Coach Davenport’s teams is you get to show your team what it’s like to watch a team pass the ball.”

Without Betz, who averages 35 minutes a game and is the heart and soul of Bellarmine’s squad in many ways, Davenport had to turn to some younger players. Redshirt freshman Ben Johnson responded with 20 points. Jaylen Fairman added a team-best 5 assists. Hopf had 16 points, including 4-of-8 shooting from three-point range.

UCLA was led by Jaime Jacquez with 27 points.

Thelen was set to have an MRI on Monday. Betz was to get a shoulder injection.

“Without JB. I mean, it's hard to downplay that, folks. He's our best player,” Davenport said. “And one of the most special leaders I’ve ever coached, at any level.”

Bellarmine returned home on a red-eye flight and was due to land in Louisville around 10 a.m. The Knights will head back to the practice court Monday afternoon – those that aren’t meeting with doctors – in preparation for a Tuesday visit to Kentucky at 7:30 p.m.

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