March Madness: UCLA beats Northwestern and returns to Sweet 16

How sweet it is.

For the third time in as many seasons, UCLA advances to week two of the NCAA Tournament.

The Bruins again made the Sweet 16 as another trend continued Saturday at the Golden 1 Center: The final minutes continued to be winning time.

After a huge northwest 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 win.

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

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

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

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

UCLA’s Tyger Campbell makes a shot against Northwestern in Saturday’s first half.

(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), which lacked basketball tradition and had their chances in the greatest game in school history.

An incredibly intense, back-and-forth game tilted toward UCLA as Singleton buried a three to push the Bruins to a 62-56 lead with 1:45 left after an Adem Bona block gave their team possession. Northwestern’s Brooks Barnhizer made two free throws to pull the Wildcats in 62-58.

Northwestern got the ball back after Jaquez aired a hard baseline jumper that sailed over the edge, but the Wildcats missed two consecutive shots and Campbell grabbed the rebound with 42 seconds left, was fouled and made two free throws to take the advantage. extending to 64-58, before Buie made a short jump with 23 seconds left.

The Wildcats fouled Singleton, who was in so much pain that he put an arm around trainer Tyler Lesher as he walked onto the field. UCLA’s Dylan Andrews made both free throws with 20 seconds remaining before Buie missed a driving layup, effectively ending the Wildcats’ battle.

A “UCLA!” chants echoed in the arena after Andrews’ three-pointer from the wing pushed the Bruins to a 51-45 lead and capped a 6-0 rise. As before in the second half, Northwestern rallied to come within 51-50 on a Buie three-pointer.

It looked like UCLA was headed for a blowout as Bailey spun around 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 threw a three-pointer and Northwestern fans let him hear it. The Wildcats then began to find the rhythm that had eluded them in the first half, going on an 11-2 push to pull in 43-39 and forcing UCLA coach Mick Cronin to call a timeout when Singleton and Bona quarreled on the way to the bank. .

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

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

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Bona threw down a dunk coming out of timeout, but immediately grabbed the left shoulder he hurt during the Pac-12 tournament and took off. Northwestern quickly tied the game at 45-45 as UCLA’s Kenneth Nwuba was called up by Buie for goaltending on a driving layup.

UCLA’s stifling defense did its job helping the Bruins take a 35–25 halftime lead, holding Northwestern’s seasoned backcourt, Buie and Audige, to five points on a combined one-of-eight shooting . Bailey and Andrews were particularly stifling in their efforts on Buie, denying him lanes while staying within poor breathing distance.

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

In his first appearance since cautiously walking off the field during the Pac-12 tournament, Bona struggled early on, save for a dunk of a nice pass from Bailey. Bona was called for two fouls in the space of 24 seconds and came out with just four minutes to play in the first half.

Continuing his surprise stint as the Bruins’ top big man, Nwuba blocked a shot that set off a fastbreak that ended in a Jaquez dunk. Jaquez and Bailey were the main protagonists on offense, adding up to 25 points at halfway.

UCLA’s full-court press was also effective in the pocket, giving the Bruins an 11–3 lead on points from turnovers by halftime. It also allowed them to get on the fastbreak as much as possible to maximize their massive advantage in athleticism. At halftime, all 13 fastbreak points of the game belonged to the Bruins.

After UCLA’s first-round victory, Cronin joked that his sister, Kelly, would advocate for Northwestern because she was an alumna. Kelly Cronin’s students at Summit Country Day High in Cincinnati, where she is the principal, saw the spot and placed pro-Northwest signs in her office, but to avoid confusion, she wore a UCLA T-shirt.

“She would never protest me,” said Mick Cronin.

Either way it would have been a futile attempt.

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