Jaylen Clark Named Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Semifinalist

UCLA’s do-it-all defensive ace is one of 10 players sill in the running for one of the top honors in college basketball.

The Bruins’ top defender has picked up even more recognition on the national stage.

UCLA men’s basketball guard Jaylen Clark was one of 10 players named a semifinalist for the Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year on Tuesday. The wing – who was named to the midseason watch list on Jan. 26 – is in contention to be the fourth Bruin to take home the honor and the first since Marques Johnson in 1977.

Northwestern guard Chase Audige, Oklahoma State forward Moussa Cisse, Purdue center Zach Edey, Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner, Rutgers guard Caleb McConnell, Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr., Houston guard Marcus Sasser and Tennessee guard Zakai Zeigler join Clark as the other nine semifinalists members of the watch list.

North Carolina forward Leaky Black, UConn guard Andre Jackson Jr., Mississippi State guard Shakeel Moore, Western Kentucky center Jamarion Sharp and Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe were the five players who missed the cut when the field was trimmed from 15 down to 10. 

Clark is averaging 13.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 0.3 blocks per game in 19 appearances this season. Clark leads UCLA and the Pac-12 in steal percentage, defensive rating, defensive win shares, defensive box plus/minus and overall box plus/minus.

With a defensive rating of 85.0, Clark has the lowest mark of any Bruin since the stat started being tracked in the 2009-2010 season.

Clark has publicly announced that he is hunting for UCLA’s single-season steals record this season, which is currently held by Jordan Adams with 95. The junior out of Etiwanda High School (CA) currently has 72 steals, which means he would be on pace to surpass Adams if the Bruins make the Pac-12 tournament championship game and the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.

After recording seven steals in the season opener, Clark has reached four steals in five other games. Clark has finished with three or more steals in 14 of UCLA’s last 20 games, and he is averaging 2.8 steals per game since Dec. 10.

Coming into this season, Clark had 10 multi-steal performances across 60 games. This year, he’s done so 21 times in 28 appearances.

Clark ranks No. 6 in the country in steals per game, No. 10 in steal percentage, No. 5 in defensive rating, No. 1 in defensive win shares and No. 1 in defensive box plus/minus.

Clark is the main cog on defense for a UCLA team that ranks No. 2 in opponent adjusted points allowed per 100 possessions, per KenPom and BartTorvik. The Bruins’ defense also ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 7 in the country with 59.7 points allowed per game.

Last season, Clark made the All-Pac-12 Defensive Team while coming off the bench. This season, he could take home the top defensive honor in the nation thanks to his bigger role.

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