SACRAMENTO — UCLA’s Adem Bona was wincing in pain after reaggravating his left shoulder. But with just over two minutes to play, the 6-foot-10, freshman center was at the free throw line with a three-point lead.
Senior teammate David Singleton gave Bona a quick pep talk and two thumbs up. Bona missed the first free throw. Singleton came back, smiled and tried it again. Bona missed the second. For a moment, the window was open for Northwestern to make a move, but Bona’s moment wasn’t over.
On the ensuing possession, Bona delivered an acrobatic block that landed in Tyger Campbell’s hands, who pushed the ball up the floor and found Singleton for a 3-pointer that served as a dagger, creating a six-point lead and helping the second-seeded Bruins to an eventual 68-63 victory over seventh-seeded Northwestern in the second round of the NCAA tournament in front of 16,806 in the Golden 1 Center Saturday night.
“We’re surprised when Dave misses because we see him every day in practice,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “He missed two open ones (earlier in the game). Everybody was telling him in the huddle, all these guys, ‘Hey, man, shoot the next one’. None of us were surprised when that went in. It was his first make of the game from three.”
UCLA will advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the third consecutive season where it will play the winner of third-seeded Gonzaga and sixth-seeded TCU on Thursday in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena. Game time has not been determined.
Jaime Jaquez Jr., once again, led the Bruins (31-5) with 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting and eight rebounds in 38 minutes. Campbell was 0 of 7 from the field, but scored all 12 points from the free throw line (12 of 12) and added seven assists.
Jaquez passed Bill Walton on UCLA’s scoring list, putting him 12th all-time.
“That’s crazy. That’s insane. I’ll be sure to tell Bill when I see him,” Jaquez said.
In the final minute, Singleton was fouled and fell to the floor holding his right ankle in pain. He had to come out of the game with the help of his teammates, not putting weight on it. Freshman Dylan Andrews came in and made two clutch foul shots to give the Bruins a 66-60 lead with 20 seconds left.
David Singleton is back on the floor with the team with one shoe off. He’s moving on his own power, that’s a good sign for UCLA. pic.twitter.com/TEvat3lumA
— Tarek Fattal (@Tarek_Fattal) March 19, 2023
After being helped off the floor and into the tunnel, Singleton eventually came back out onto the floor to watch the rest of the game from the sideline. He was later diagnosed with an ankle sprain that is unlikely to keep him out next week, according to the UCLA spokesperson.
“Looks like he didn’t break his ankle, which I was worried that he did,” Cronin said.
Singleton’s injury was the latter of two scary moments for the Bruins. Bona skied for a dunk in the second half before immediately coming down holding his shoulder in pain. He re-entered the game a few minutes later, but his initial reaction seemed more serious. It’s something he’ll have to play with the rest of the tournament.
“He’s sore. He’s extremely sore. The fact that he’s out there shows you what a warrior he is. Any type of movement like that is going to aggravate him and it’s just going to be like that,” Cronin said.
Amari Bailey continued his stretch of great play with 14 points (on 5 of 7 shooting) with six rebounds, four rebounds. But maybe more impressive was his defense on Northwestern two guards, Boo Buie (18 points) and Chase Audige (16 points). Buie was 5-of-13 from the field and Audige, who was scoreless in the first half, was 6 of 17.
“Amari has tremendous, tremendous talent. The more he plays, the more comfortable he gets, the better he gets,” Cronin said. “He’s just as good on the defensive end as he is on the offensive end.”
Good defense from Amari Bailey.
UCLA hanging onto a 57-54 lead with 2:50 to play. pic.twitter.com/4WVkU2v5Z1
— Tarek Fattal (@Tarek_Fattal) March 19, 2023
The matchup gave UCLA a glimpse of what Big Ten Conference basketball will be like when it joins the conference in 2024, which is a physical brand of play. Northwestern’s 7-foot-2 center Matthew Nicholson had 17 points and nine rebounds on a perfect 9-of-9 shooting. However, the Bruins were up for the challenge and also took advantage when they could, outscoring the Wildcats 22-3 in fast break points.
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“I would tell you our transition early is what got us the lead,” Cronin said. “I thought that was big because they’re such a good halfcourt defensive team.”
UCLA’s mix of experience and young, talent showed Saturday night. Bailey played 38 minutes and Andrews played 15 minutes off the bench as was plus 10 in efficiency when on the floor.
“They’re so big for us. We wouldn’t be in this position without them,” Jaquez said. “I don’t think they’re freshmen anymore. They stepped up to the plate.”