UCLA edges Northwestern to return to Sweet 16; David Singleton has sprained his ankle

How sweet it is.

For the third time in as many seasons, UCLA is advancing to the second week of the NCAA tournament.

The Bruins reached the Sweet 16 again Saturday at the Golden 1 Center as another trend continued: They kept winning in the final minutes.

The Wildcats erased a 13-point deficit by shaking off a huge Northwestern rally as second-seeded UCLA held off seventh-seeded UCLA for a 68-63 victory in the second round.

The Bruins’ celebration was muted by another season-ending injury.

UCLA senior guard David Singleton, whose only 3-pointer of the night opened a six-point lead late, suffered a sprained right ankle when he slipped with 20 seconds left. He had to be helped off the court, but he turned around and wiggled his fingers as he walked away to cheers from the crowd. He gave a good assessment of his injury to the journalists: “I just sprained my ankle. I am OK.”

Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 24 points, Amari Bailey had 14 and Tyger Campbell had 12 for the Bruins, who pulled away after making all the plays they needed in the final minutes. Campbell threw the ball into the air as the final seconds ticked off 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 puts up a shot against Northwestern in the first half on Saturday.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

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

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

Northwestern got the ball back after Jaquez hit a hard baseline jumper that sailed over the rim, but the Wildcats missed two consecutive shots and Campbell grabbed a rebound with 42 seconds left, got fouled and made two free throws to extend the lead to 64-58. , before Buie made a short jumper with 23 seconds left.

The Wildcats fouled Singleton, who threw a sore arm around coach Tyler Lesher as he walked down the court. UCLA’s Dylan Andrews made both free throws with 20 seconds left before Buie missed a driving layup, effectively ending the Wildcats’ streak.

“UCLA!” chants echoed inside the arena after Andrews’ three-pointer gave the Bruins a 51-45 lead and overcame a 6-0 run. As it had done earlier in the second half, Northwestern rallied with a Buie three-pointer to make it 51-50.

It looked like UCLA might be on its way to a blowout when Bailey spun around Buie to give the Bruins a 41-28 lead early in the second half.

But in a sign of things to come, Jaquez drained a three-pointer and the Northwestern fans let him listen. The Wildcats then began to find the rhythm that had eluded them in the first half, going on an 11-2 spurt to pull within 43-39 and forcing UCLA coach Mick Cronin to call a timeout when Singleton and Bona argued on the way to the bench. .

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

UCLA’s Kenneth Nwuba fights 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 the loose ball.

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

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Bona took a shot coming out of the timeout but immediately grabbed the left shoulder that hurt him in the Pac-12 tournament and left. Northwestern quickly rallied to tie the game at 45-45 when UCLA’s Kenneth Nwuba Buie hit a driving layup.

UCLA’s suffocating 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 eight straight shots. Bailey and Andrews were particularly suffocating in their efforts on Buie, denying him driving lanes while staying within breathing distance.

The Bruins had considerably less success stopping Nicholson, who made five shots on his way to 10 points after scoring on several lobs and pick-and-rolls. UCLA’s three big men were equally ineffective at preventing those easy baskets.

In his first appearance since cautiously walking off the court at the Pac-12 tournament, he tackled Bona early on, except to throw him off a nice pass from Bailey. Bona was fouled twice in a 24-second span and exited, playing just four minutes in the first half.

Nwuba continued his amazing season as the Bruins’ best big man, blocking a shot that ended in a shot by Jaquez. Jaquez and Bailey were the main protagonists on offense, combining for 25 points at halftime.

UCLA’s full-court press was also effective in the pockets, helping the Bruins take an 11-3 lead into halftime. It also allowed them to get out as much as possible on the fastbreak to maximize their huge advantage in athleticism. At halftime, all 13 rushing points in the game belonged to the Bruins.

After UCLA’s first-round win, Cronin joked that his sister Kelly would be rooting for Northwestern because she was an alumna. Given the location, students at Kelly Cronin’s Summit Country Day High in Cincinnati, where she is the principal, put up pro-Northwestern signs in her office, but she wore a UCLA T-shirt to avoid confusion.

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

It would be a futile effort anyway.

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