March Madness: UCLA beats Northwestern, returns to Sweet 16

How sweet.

For the third time in as many seasons, UCLA qualified for Week 2 of the NCAA Tournament.

The Bruins reached the Sweet 16 again because another trend persisted Saturday at the Golden 1 Center: The final minutes continued to stall.

Shaking off a massive Northwestern rally in which the Wildcats erased a 13-point deficit, second-seeded UCLA held off the seventh-seeded Wildcats for a 68-63 second-round victory .

The Bruins’ celebration was muted due to another injury late in the season.

UCLA senior guard David Singleton, whose only three-pointer of the night opened up a late six-point lead, suffered a sprained right ankle when he slipped with 20 seconds left. He had to be helped off the pitch but came back and wiggled his fingers as he walked away to the cheers of the crowd. He gave reporters a optimistic report of his injury“I just rolled my ankle. I’m fine.”

Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 24 points, Amari Bailey added 14 and Tyger Campbell had 12 for the Bruins, who retired after making all the plays they needed in the final minutes. Campbell tossed the ball in the air after the last second on the clock.

UCLA (31-5) will face the winner of Sunday’s second-round matchup between Gonzaga and Texas Christian in a regional semifinal on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

UCLA’s Tyger Campbell threw a shot against Northwestern in the first half on Saturday.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Boo Buie scored 18 points, Matthew Nicholson had 17 and Chase Audige all 16 of his in the second half for Northwestern (22-12), who had their chances in the biggest game in school history given the lack of tradition in basketball.

An incredibly intense back-and-forth game tilted in the direction of UCLA as Singleton buried a three to push the Bruins into a 62-56 lead with 1:45 to go, after a block from Adem Bona gave possession to their team. Northwestern’s Brooks Barnhizer had two free throws to bring the Wildcats to 62-58.

Northwestern got the ball back after Jaquez threw a tough base jumper that sailed over the edge, but the Wildcats missed two straight shots and Campbell grabbed the rebound with 42 seconds left, was fouled and made two free throws to extend the lead to 64-58, before Buie made a short jump with 23 seconds left.

The Wildcats fouled Singleton, who was in so much pain he threw an arm around coach Tyler Lesher as he walked down the field. UCLA’s Dylan Andrews made both free throws with 20 seconds left before Buie missed a driving layup, ending the Wildcats’ stalemate.

A “UCLA!” The chant echoed inside the arena after Andrews’ three-point shot from the wing pushed the Bruins into a 51-45 lead and capped a 6-0 push. Just like he did earlier in the second half, Northwestern rallied, going 51-50 on a Buie three-pointer.

It looked like UCLA might be about to explode when Bailey circled Buie for a layup to give the Bruins a 41-28 lead early in the second half.

But in a sign of things to come, Jaquez kicked a three-pointer and the North West fans let him hear it. The Wildcats then began to find the rhythm that had eluded them in the first half. .

UCLA's Kenneth Nwuba battles for a loose ball against Northwestern's Ty Berry in the first half.

UCLA’s Kenneth Nwuba battles for a loose ball against Northwestern’s Ty Berry in the first half.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Sacramento Calif. March 16, 2023-UCLA's Ammari Bailey, left, and Adem Bona battle for a loose ball.

UCLA’s Amari Bailey, left, and Adem Bona, right, battle for a loose ball against Northwestern in the second half.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Bona threw a dunk out of timeout but immediately grabbed the left shoulder he injured in the Pac-12 tournament and walked away. Northwestern was quickly tied 45-45 when UCLA’s Kenneth Nwuba was called for goalie on a Buie layup.

UCLA’s stifling defense did its job in helping the Bruins take a 35-25 halftime lead, holding Northwestern’s veteran backcourt of Buie and Audige to five points on a combined one-for-one shot. eight. Bailey and Andrews were particularly gasping in their efforts on Buie, denying him lanes of traffic while keeping bad breath at bay.

The Bruins had much less success stopping Nicholson, who made all five shots en route to 10 points after scoring on a variety of lobs and pick-and-roll plays. UCLA’s three big men were equally ineffective in preventing those easy baskets.

In his first appearance since stepping off the court cautiously in the Pac-12 tournament, Bona struggled early except for a dunk on a fine pass from Bailey. Bona was called for two fouls in 24 seconds and went off, playing just four minutes in the first half.

Nwuba continued his surprising stint as the Bruins’ best big man, blocking a shot that sparked a quick break ending in a Jaquez dunk. Jaquez and Bailey were the main protagonists on offense, combining for 25 points halfway through.

UCLA’s all-court press was also effective in the pockets, helping the Bruins take an 11-3 point lead from halftime turnovers. It also allowed them to get as far out of the fastbreak as possible to maximize their massive athletic advantage. At halftime, all 13 quick break points of the game belonged to the Bruins.

After UCLA’s first-round victory, Cronin joked that his sister, Kelly, would support Northwestern because she was an alumnus. Seeing the location, Kelly Cronin’s students at Summit Country Day High in Cincinnati, where she is principal, posted pro-Northwestern signs in her office, but just to avoid confusion, she was wearing a UCLA t-shirt. .

“She would never root against me,” Mick Cronin said.

It would have been a futile effort anyway.

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