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UCLA men’s basketball heads to Sweet 16, Jaime Jaquez Jr. deals with injury

Junior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. sits on the bench after injuring his right ankle in No. 4 seed UCLA men’s basketball’s win over No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s on Saturday. (Ashley Kenney/Photo editor)

By Jon Christon

March 23, 2022 4:19 p.m.

One thing is certain: The Bruins will be facing the Tar Heels on Friday night with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line.

What’s uncertain, however, is the status of Jaime Jaquez Jr.

The junior guard/forward injured his ankle in the second half of No. 4 seed UCLA men’s basketball’s (27-7, 15-5 Pac-12) victory over No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s on Saturday and did not return to the game. Officially listed as day to day with a right ankle sprain, Jaquez did not practice Tuesday as his team prepares to take on No. 8 seed North Carolina on Friday.

Coach Mick Cronin said Jaquez’s status is still unclear three days before the Sweet 16 clash.

“I got to have two game plans,” Cronin said. “One with him one, one without him.”

With Jaquez in the lineup, UCLA is the winner of 10 of its last 12 contests. Jaquez has averaged a team-best 16.3 points per game over that stretch, including eight consecutive games with 15 or more points.

Redshirt junior guard Tyger Campbell said the Bruins are a tougher team when Jaquez is on the floor.

“He’s one of the best players in the country,” Campbell said after the win over Saint Mary’s. “He brings defensive grit. Offensively, he’s a matchup nightmare. And he can hit the open shot.”

(Ashley Kenney/Photo editor)
Jaquez shoots a fadeaway jumper. The junior guard/forward had a game-high 15 first-half points versus the Gaels. (Ashley Kenney/Photo editor)

However, Cronin said UCLA’s injury-riddled season has prepared the team to be without its second-leading scorer if Jaquez can’t go Friday.

While the blue and gold have been without Jaquez for only one contest so far this campaign, every Bruin besides senior guard Jules Bernard and redshirt senior center Myles Johnson has missed time because of injury. Junior guard Johnny Juzang – the team’s leading scorer – missed five contests, and UCLA was without redshirt senior forward Cody Riley for eight games at the start of the year.

Jaquez has also played through pain during the season, with injuries to both ankles limiting his minutes earlier in the year.

“We’re always prepared,” Bernard said. “We’ve been through this, unfortunately, throughout the season where Jaime’s been injured and out, and other guys have stepped up.”

Bernard said sophomore guard Jaylen Clark, freshman guard/forward Peyton Watson, junior guard/forward Jake Kyman and senior guard David Singleton could all help fill the void potentially left by Jaquez.

Clark – who started in place of an injured Jaquez against Oregon State on Jan. 15 – has been UCLA’s sixth man across two NCAA Tournament contests, playing 27 total minutes in the pair of games. In six career starts, Clark has averaged 14.2 points per game.

Watson, meanwhile, has been the bench’s leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament with seven points total.

“I got full confidence in Peyton and Jaylen Clark and the rest of the guys,” Cronin said.

Whether Jaquez plays or not, Cronin said the junior guard/forward’s presence will still be felt in Philadelphia.

“Obviously, he’s turned into a great scorer which has helped us, … but what you guys don’t see is the huddles in the locker room,” Cronin said. “He’s helped build the program back to where it belongs.”

Even without a regular practice schedule, Bernard said he isn’t putting it past his teammate to suit up against the Tar Heels.

“If he can walk and he can run a little bit, he’ll want to play,” Bernard said.

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Jon Christon | Sports senior staff
Christon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously the Sports editor on the men's basketball and football beats and the assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats. Christon was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and softball beats.
Christon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously the Sports editor on the men's basketball and football beats and the assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats. Christon was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and softball beats.
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