UCLA men’s basketball brings down BYU in 1st round of NCAA tournament
No. 11 seed UCLA men’s basketball upset No. 6 seed BYU on Saturday, earning its first trip to the Round of 32 since 2017. The Bruins led for 39 minutes and never trailed the Cougars in the double-digit victory. (Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
|No. 11 seed UCLA||73|
|No. 6 seed BYU||62|
By Sam Connon
March 20, 2021 9:09 p.m.
This post was updated March 20 at 10:26 p.m.
The Bruins had been in the same position several times over the past month.
They were leading the Cougars by double digits at the half, but they did the same against USC and Oregon State – both of which games UCLA lost.
Not this time.
No. 11 seed UCLA men’s basketball (19-9, 13-6 Pac-12) upset No. 6 seed BYU (20-7, 10-3 WCC) on Saturday night, putting together a wire-to-wire 73-62 victory to advance to the Round of 32. Sophomore guard Johnny Juzang saw fellow sophomore guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. put up 27 points in the First Four against Michigan State on Thursday and decided to match him with 27 of his own against BYU.
Across his first two NCAA tournament games, Juzang has scored 50 points, third-most in program history in that span behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Reggie Miller. Juzang said he was just glad he could find a way to help his team but recognized the gravity of whose company he now shares.
“Those are some legendary names, so it’s an honor to be mentioned with them,” Juzang said. “We’re not done. We’re not finished. So I’m happy I’ve been able to contribute in that category, but we’re not satisfied.”
Juzang went down with an ankle injury in overtime against the Spartans on Thursday and was forced to miss the rest of that game. When asked if there was a chance the injury would hold him out against the Cougars, the guard said he never even considered sitting out.
“There was no doubt – it’s March Madness,” Juzang said. “It’s do-or-die.”
Juzang got 19 points in the opening half, while Jaquez put up eight of his own. The pair, along with junior guard Jules Bernard, accounted for 35 of the Bruins’ 38 first-half points to help their team storm out to an 11-point lead in Hinkle Fieldhouse.
That lead slipped away early in the second half, just as it did against USC, Oregon State and others toward the end of the regular season for UCLA. The Cougars cut the deficit to four points with 14:22 to go, with the Bruins scoring just five points in the opening six minutes of the second frame.
But instead of losing its grip on the game as had been the case in the past, UCLA tightened things up, stretching its lead back to double digits after junior guard David Singleton came in to take over point guard duties.
Coach Mick Cronin credited Singleton for giving the team an important 12 minutes off the bench but said the Bruins were able to avoid blowing another late lead because of his staff’s guidance of a senior-less squad.
“We are from Southern California, so at times, I have to do everything I can to inject some intensity,” Cronin said. “Now coach (Rod) Palmer would tell you where he’s from in Compton, (is) a little bit tougher so he helps with it. … And then the other thing is just belief and having fun, man.”
The Bruins led by double figures for the final 5:21 of the night. Despite missing six of its last 11 free throws in the final two minutes, UCLA held on to win.
Juzang co-led the Bruins with eight points in the second half, but the Cougar defense mostly neutralized him until he got to the line late in the game. Instead, it was a group effort in the second half to hold on to the lead, with Bernard, Singleton, Jaquez and redshirt sophomore guard Tyger Campbell all hitting multiple field goals down the stretch.
Bernard finished with 16 points and Jaquez finished with 13, while Campbell put up a team-high five assists without a single turnover.
UCLA’s 73 points were hardly more than its 69.3 average during its four-game losing streak heading into the tournament, however. BYU, on the other hand, entered the tournament scoring 78.7 points per game with the 28th-best adjusted offensive rating from KenPom.
Even with redshirt junior forward Cody Riley stuck in foul trouble for most of the night, the Bruins held the Cougars’ 7-foot center, Matt Haarms, to four points in the first half using mostly redshirt sophomore forward Kenneth Nwuba.
“(Nwuba)’s such a good kid. I was so happy to see him be able to give us some minutes tonight,” Cronin said. “His defense was much needed.”
On the perimeter, BYU went just 3-of-17 from 3-point land after entering the game shooting 37.8% on 9.0 makes per game.
“It’s not easy to defend BYU – it’s actually extremely hard – ‘Not easy’ is not the best way to say it,” Cronin said. “I can’t tell you how hard that was for our guys and how proud I am of how hard they played, played with a lot of pride.”
UCLA is now set to face No. 14 seed Abilene Christian on Monday following its own upset victory over No. 3 Texas on Saturday. The Bruins would advance to their first Sweet 16 since 2017 with a win over the Wildcats.