March Madness: UCLA beats Northwest, returns to Sweet 16

How sweet is it.

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

The Bruins made it to the Sweet 16 again because another trend continued Saturday at Golden 1 Center: the final minutes continued to win overtime.

After a huge crowd erupted in the Northwest as the Wildcats erased a 13-point deficit, second seeded UCLA was able to upset seventh seeded Wildcats for a 68-63 win in the second round.

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

UCLA senior point guard David Singleton, who opened with just a three-pointer on the night, trailed a six-point lead, He suffers from a sprained right ankle When he slipped with 20 seconds left. He had to be helped off the field but he came back wagging his fingers as he walked to the cheers of the crowd. Correspondents gave An optimistic assessment of his injury: “I just rolled my ankle. I’m fine.”

Jaime Jacques Jr. scored 24 points, Amari Bailey added 14 and Tiger Campbell added 12 for the Bruins, who folded after making all the plays they needed in the closing minutes. Campbell tossed the ball into the air after the last second had run out 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 Tiger Campbell put up a shot against Northwestern in the first half on Saturday.

(Wally Scalig/Los Angeles Times)

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

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

Northwestern got the ball back after Jaquez made a strong base jump roll that sailed over the rim, but the Wildcats missed two consecutive shots and Campbell grabbed the rebound with 42 seconds left, made two fouls and made two free throws to extend the advantage to 64-58, before Bowie made a short jumper 23 seconds before the end of the game.

The Wildcats missed out on Singleton, who was in so much pain that he threw his arm around head coach Tyler Lesher as he walked down the field. UCLA’s Dylan Andrews made two free throws with 20 seconds left before Buie missed a layup on the drive, effectively ending the Chacnes Wildcats.

“University of California!” The chant reverberated inside the ring after Andrews’ three-pointer from the wing pushed the Bruins to a 51-45 lead and capped off a 6-0 lead. Just like earlier in the second half, Northwestern rallied, coming within 51-50 on a Bowie three-pointer.

It looked as though UCLA might be on to explode when Bailey circled Bowie 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 hooked up a three-air pointer and Northwestern fans let him hear it. Then the Wildcats began to find the rhythm that had eluded them in the first half, putting together an 11-2 push to pull within 43-39 and forcing UCLA head coach Mick Cronin to call timeout while Singleton and Bona argued their way to the bench.

UCLA's Kenneth Noba battles for a loose ball against Northwestern's Ty Perry in the first inning.

UCLA’s Kenneth Noba battles for a loose ball against Northwestern’s Ty Perry in the first inning.

(Wally Scalig/Los Angeles Times)

SACRAMENTO CALIFORNIA, March 16, 2023, UCLA's Amari Bailey, left, and Adam Bona compete for the loose ball.

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

(Wally Scalig/Los Angeles Times)

Bona threw a dunk that came out of timeout but immediately grabbed the left shoulder he had injured during the Pac-12 Championship and left. Northwestern quickly pulled to a 45-45 tie when Kenneth Nwuba of UCLA was called upon to supervise goalie by Buie.

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UCLA’s stifling defense did its job helping the Bruins take a 35-25 halftime lead, bringing Northwestern’s veteran backcourt of Buie and Audige to five points on one-for-eight shooting. Bailey and Andrews were particularly suffocating in their efforts on Bowie, denying him a drive in the lanes while staying within striking distance of Halitosis.

The Bruins had much less success stopping Nicholson, who hit all five shots on his way to 10 points after scoring on a variety of snaps and plays. All three UCLA big men were equally ineffective at blocking those easy baskets.

In his first appearance since gingerly walking off the court during the Pac-12 Championship, Bona struggled early except for a sweet pass from Bailey. Bona was called for two fouls in a 24-second period and was out, playing only four minutes in the first half.

Nwuba continued his surprising stint as the Bruins’ best big man, stopping a shot that led to a fast break that ended in a Jaquez dunk. Jaquez and Bailey were the main offense champions, combining for 25 points at the halfway point.

The UCLA full press was also effective in the pockets, helping the Bruins take an 11-3 lead on points stopping turnovers in the first half. It also allowed them to get out of Fastbreak as much as possible to get the most out of their sports. At halftime, all 13 of the game’s fastbreak points belonged to the Bruins.

After UCLA won in the first round, Cronin joked that his sister, Kelly, would be rooting for Northwestern because she was an alumna. Upon seeing the venue, students of Kelly Cronin at Summit Country Day High in Cincinnati, where she was the school’s principal, put up pro-Northwestern signs in her office, but only to avoid any confusion she wore a UCLA jersey.

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“You’ll never take root against me,” said Mick Cronin.

It would have been a futile effort anyway.

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