UCLA men’s basketball blows past Saint Mary’s Gaels to make Sweet 16
No. 4 seed UCLA men’s basketball’s junior guard Johnny Juzang drives past No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s guard Tommy Kuhse. Juzang paced the Bruins with 12 second-half points. (Ashley Kenney/Photo editor)
|No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s||56|
|No. 4 seed UCLA||72|
By Jon Christon
March 19, 2022 6:25 p.m.
This post was updated March 19 at 8:36 p.m.
PORTLAND, OREGON — Junior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. kept the Bruins afloat in the first half.
After halftime, though, it was senior guard Jules Bernard and junior guard Johnny Juzang who punched the team’s ticket to the Sweet 16.
Behind 21 combined second-half points from Bernard and Juzang, No. 4 seed UCLA men’s basketball (27-7, 15-5 Pac-12) bested No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s (26-8, 12-3 WCC) by a score of 72-56 on Saturday night to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The blue and gold has now made two consecutive Sweet 16s for the first time since making it in both the 2014 and 2015 tournaments.
“We’re just playing to win,” Juzang said. “It’s the best feeling, especially in March. We have so much fun.”
After Bernard and Juzang were held to seven combined points through the first 20 minutes, the duo started the second half firing.
Coach Mick Cronin said he knew he had to get the pair of guards involved.
“We started running some more off-the-ball screens for Johnny and Jules,” Cronin said. “They knocked down the shots.”
After the Gaels shaved their deficit to one within the half’s first five minutes, Bernard responded by bookending a Juzang jumper with a pair of right-wing 3-pointers to put his team up seven.
“That’s something that we preached: Drive to pass for this game,” Bernard said. “I was wide open and knocked it in.”
The lead then grew to double digits for the first time all game on back-to-back-to-back mid-range jumpers from Juzang.
Juzang – who scored 14 points for the game on 6-of-11 shooting – said his open shots are starting to give him a rhythm after he returned from an ankle injury six games ago.
“I’m feeling good,” Juzang said. “But it’s my teammates finding me and getting good looks.”
While Bernard and Juzang combined to lead the team in the second half, Jaquez paced the Bruins to open the game. The first half’s leading scorer with 15 points, Jaquez was held off the score card in the final frame before injuring his right ankle late in the game.
Jaquez is day-to-day with a right ankle sprain, according to a UCLA spokesperson.
“If he can walk, he’ll play (in the Sweet 16),” Cronin said.
Before his injury, Jaquez buoyed the Bruins with seven of their first nine points. However, UCLA was still down early, with a 3-pointer from guard/forward Alex Ducas giving the Gaels a 16-9 advantage and forcing Cronin to burn a timeout.
As they did in the Round of 64 against No. 13 Akron, the Bruins clawed back. Guard Tommy Kuhse converted on a layup with 10:54 left in the half, but that would be his team’s only field goal of the ensuing eight minutes – a stretch in which UCLA outscored Saint Mary’s 17-4.
“We tried to make them into a non-passing team and make guys score on us off the dribble,” Cronin said. “That’s what changed the game.”
With the increased defensive performance to close out the first half, the Bruins ran into the halftime locker room up 36-29. After Saint Mary’s started the contest 6-of-9 from the field, UCLA held its opponent to 14-of-40 shooting the rest of the game.
Kuhse – who was averaging more than 18 points per game in his previous seven contests – was held to 11 points on 1-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc.
Cronin credited redshirt senior forward Cody Riley and the Bruins’ switch-heavy pick-and-roll defense with limiting the Gael guard.
“We just thought their pick-and-roll offense was devastating – we watched them carve people up on that for the last 24 hours,” Cronin said. “Cody did an unbelievable job on that.”
While the Gaels got as close as one in the final frame, the 16 consecutive points from Bernard and Juzang iced the game for the Bruins midway through the half.
The duo went on to finish with 21 of UCLA’s 36 second-half points, combining to make more than half of their shots in the final frame to help UCLA maintain the advantage and win by 16 points.
Four Bruins scored in double figures: Bernard, Jaquez, Juzang and redshirt junior guard Tyger Campbell, who paced the blue and gold with 16 points for the contest.
“It’s on the players to perform,” Bernard said. “We all did that.”
UCLA will now take on No. 8 seed North Carolina – which is coming off an upset victory over No. 1 seed Baylor on Saturday – in the Sweet 16.