Men’s basketball defeats Arizona after close first half
Sophomore guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored a career-high 25 points on his 20th birthday as UCLA men’s basketball finished off a season sweep of Arizona on Thursday night. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin)
By Jared Tay
Feb. 18, 2021 8:28 p.m.
This post was updated Feb. 18 at 9:14 p.m.
After a first half of playing catch-up to the Wildcats, it was the Bruins who sat in the driver’s seat during the second – stepping on the gas and never looking back.
Trailing by as many as eight points in the opening period, UCLA men’s basketball (15-5, 11-3 Pac-12) defeated Arizona (14-8, 8-8) 74-60 to notch its first win of a weekend homestand with less than a month to play in the conference schedule.
Thanks to timely defense in the first half and a career-high 25 points for sophomore guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr., the Bruins have swept Arizona for their seventh straight regular season win over the Wildcats.
“I was determined to make it a really happy birthday,” Jaquez, who turned 20 today, said. “These are must-win games right now, now we’re kind of toward the end of the season, getting into crunch time, so each game for us is basically playing in a tournament.”
In the opening four minutes of play, coach Mick Cronin’s squad found itself on the wrong end of a 10-2 scoreline. Going up against a Wildcat starting lineup with two big men, the Bruins nonetheless tried to feed the ball inside to redshirt junior forward Cody Riley. Riley found heavy resistance in the trenches however, going 2-of-9 from the field in the first half.
“They’re really well coached and when they execute, they can pick you apart like they did in the first seven or eight possessions,” Cronin said. “They know what to do. They know how you’re going to defend. They’re extremely well prepared.”
The Bruins’ lack of inside success early wasn’t helped by their outside shooting either, as they were shut out from beyond the arc after shooting 0-for-10. Through the first 18 minutes, sophomore guard Johnny Juzang – who had put up 57 points combined against the Washington schools last weekend – was scoreless.
Though slow out of the gates, UCLA managed to stick around, thanks to frequent travel calls on Arizona and buckets from contributors up and down the lineup.
Sophomore guard/forward Jake Kyman disrupted the Wildcats’ passing with three steals in the first half while notching four points of his own. Jaquez led his squad with eight first-half points, and after holding Arizona scoreless for almost six minutes, the Bruins headed into the locker room down by one.
“The first five minutes (were) pretty bad,” Jaquez said. “So we knew we had to come out the last 15 of the first half strong, and we kind of just carried that energy throughout the second half.”
The Bruins emerged a much better team after the halftime break as Riley found more success on the offensive side of the ball . Linking up with Jaquez on a pass inside at the 17:00 mark, UCLA took a one-point lead and began to pull away in the following minutes.
“We’re just trying to (take) what the defense gave us coming off screens,” said redshirt sophomore guard Tyger Campbell, the conference’s assist leader. “I think I hit (Riley) one time, and he was open, and then it was kind of just we were letting the game come to us.”
Shooting at a 90% clip in the first eight minutes of the second half, the Bruins complemented their shooting with quality defensive possessions as well. Their play on both ends of the floor was rewarded with a 15-2 run as the clock approached the 10-minute mark. Apart from a free-throw with 11 minutes to go, the Wildcats had not scored since the 15-minute mark.
Arizona brought the deficit back to as close as five points with six minutes left to play, yet by the final buzzer, UCLA had given itself a 14-point buffer thanks to Jaquez’ 11 points during that period.
The second half was more kind to Campbell and Riley, who both had a perfect second half shooting the ball. As a whole, the Bruins’ shot nearly double their field-goal percentage from the first frame.
UCLA will remain at home to face Arizona State on Saturday – its last home game before it hosts USC to end the regular season.
In the meantime, Jaquez said he’s looking forward to celebrating his birthday with his teammates, and most importantly, his new Nintendo Switch.
“Tonight we’re going to play Super Smash (Bros.),” Jaquez said. “I think it’s going to be a little bit more competitive with everyone there.”