Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 24 points, and UCLA held off Northwestern’s second-half push to return to the Sweet 16 with a 68-63 victory Saturday night.
The second-seeded (31-5) turned up the defensive intensity late, holding the seventh-seeded Wildcats to 1-of-12 shooting in a key late stretch to seal the win.
The win was marred when David Singleton went down in excruciating pain with a right leg injury with 20.3 seconds remaining. He stayed down on the court for a few minutes before being helped by teammates and going straight to the locker room. There was no immediate word on the extent of the injury.
UCLA reached its third consecutive Sweet 16 for the first time in 15 years. The Bruins will play the winner of Sunday’s game between Gonzaga and TCU in the West Region semifinals Thursday night in Las Vegas.
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Dylan Andrews #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after a three-pointer during the second half against the Northwestern Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Golden 1 Center on March 18, 2023 in Sacramento, California. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Amari Bailey scored 14 points, and Tyger Campbell scored 12 for UCLA.
Boo Buie scored 18 points to lead Northwestern (22-12), Matthew Nicholson scored 17 and Chase Audige scored 16 of his points in the second half.
The Wildcats ended their second trip to the tournament the same way they did six years ago, losing in the second round.
They put up a good fight against the more seasoned Bruins in the tournament, and had a chance until they went cold from the field at the end of the game.
The key moment came in the final two minutes when Adem Bona blocked an Audige drive, sending UCLA out in transition. David Singleton’s 3-pointer put the Bruins up 62-56 with 1:50 to play.
UCLA controlled the game early, contesting nearly every shot and neutralizing Northwestern’s high scoring backcourt of Buie and Audige.
UCLA players celebrate near the end of a victory during their first round college basketball game against UNC Asheville in the men’s NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Randall Benton)
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Jaquez sparked a 12-2 run to take an 11-point lead midway through the half, getting a steal and a layup and making another layup in transition after a blocked shot by Kenneth Nwuba.
Buie finally made his first basket of the game before the buzzer to cut UCLA’s lead to 35-25 at halftime.
Audige opened the second half with 14 points in the first eight minutes after going blank before halftime. The Wildcats tied it at 45 when Buie was awarded a layup on a goalie call midway through.
The game was close from there until the end.
THE BIG PICTURE
Northwestern: The Wildcats followed up their first tournament appearance with a losing streak over the next five seasons. Coach Chris Collins led them into second place in the Big Ten during the regular season and now looks to build from there.
Amari Bailey #5 and Jaime Jaquez Jr. #24 UCLA Bruins react during the second half against the Northwestern Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Golden 1 Center on March 18, 2023 in Sacramento, California. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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UCLA: Bona returned after missing the last two games with a left shoulder injury. He aggravated the injury on a dunk in the second half and immediately went to the bench, but returned to the game and had a late block. His presence will be key next weekend.
UCLA is two wins away from its 20th Final Four appearance.