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UCLA men’s basketball stings Hornets with 26-point victory in season opener

Senior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. posts up a Hornet defender in No. 8 UCLA men’s basketball’s win over Sacramento State. (Kyle Kotanchek/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Men’s basketball


Sacramento State50
No. 8 UCLA76

By Bryan Palmero

Nov. 7, 2022 11:09 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 8 at 10:52 p.m.

It’s not the first day of school, but senior year officially started for Jaime Jaquez Jr. on Monday.

The guard/forward kicked off the Bruins’ 2022-2023 campaign, and potentially his final collegiate season, with a floating baseline dunk in transition.

He followed it up with a signature pullup jumper on the ensuing possession before making a crafty layup to net his team’s first six points.

Jaquez made 7-of-9 shots in his senior season debut for 14 points – 12 of which he scored in the first half – helping No. 8 UCLA men’s basketball (1-0) nab a season-opening 76-50 victory over Sacramento State (0-1) at Pauley Pavilion.

After Jaquez’s junior year was marred by injuries, coach Mick Cronin said his star wing is back fully healthy, and it showed Monday night.

“He’s 100% healthy,” Cronin said. “Running faster, jumping higher – all that.”

Once Jaquez’s deluge of scoring slowed, the rest of the Bruins entered the fold.

Junior guard Jaylen Clark found his way to the hole for his first score of a 17-point night, while freshman five-star guard Amari Bailey netted his first collegiate points with a fast break layup to give his team a lead.

One five-star freshman who did not see the court Monday was forward Adem Bona. Despite starting in the Bruins’ exhibition contest last week, Bona did not play in Monday’s contest in accordance with an NCAA ruling. UCLA announced the forward would return for Friday’s home matchup against Long Beach State. 

Bona’s absence thrust redshirt senior forward/center Kenneth Nwuba into the starting lineup and set the scene for forward Mac Etienne’s first appearance in two seasons. Sidelined for the 2021-2022 season because of a right knee injury, the redshirt freshman entered the contest in the opening half.

“Mac really has only had about a week of live practice, so we knew he was going to be a nervous wreck,” Cronin said. “But we needed him tonight.”

Like Jaquez’s trifecta of scores to begin the game, Etienne made his presence known in 3s on the other end of the floor.

On back-to-back-to-back Sacramento State possessions, the 6-foot-10 Etienne swatted three shots to set a new career high in less than two minutes on the floor. Filling Bona’s shoes, Etienne finished with four blocks, one shy of his fellow freshman’s five in the Bruins’ exhibition contest.

Redshirt freshman Mac Etienne shoots a jumper. Etienne took the floor for the first time since the 2020-2021 season Monday, following a return from injury. (Kyle Kotanchek/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Once Etienne returned to the bench, however, the Hornets scored eight straight points to take a 16-12 lead 10 minutes into the contest.

But the Bruins would not trail for long. 

Ignited by a jumper from redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell, UCLA pushed ahead with an 18-0 run and never looked back. Together with Jaquez, the team’s veteran leaders each posted a 14-point senior year debut.

Upperclassmen headlined the first day of play, with Clark topping his senior teammates with a perfect shooting performance. Clark’s career-high seven steals on the night, including five in the second half, kept the Hornets at bay for the rest of the game.

Despite the career night, Clark said he’s not focused on the steals, but rather what he didn’t achieve on the court.

“I have a defensive count,” Clark said. “People would normally track shots – I don’t care about that. I’d be tracking how many times I got scored on or how many times I missed the opportunity to go steal the ball.”

Cronin said this mentality is what makes the junior guard unique and what allows him to put up seven-steal performances.

“He’s a one-man press,” Cronin said. “Some guys are on defense and some guys play defense. … He’s always playing defense.”

Fifth-year guard David Singleton also chipped in a double-digit night with 13 points behind three 3-pointers.

Meanwhile, Bailey was the only underclassman to score in double figures, netting 10 points. Including Bailey, the four freshmen who played shot just 28% from the floor in the win – most of them making their debut with the blue and gold.

Singleton, who is embracing his new role as the team’s sixth man, said Monday’s win was the first step in a seasonlong learning process for the team’s younger players.

“We know what it takes to win. … We know the hustle plays, the rebounds, the defensive roles,” Singleton said. “We have to teach them (the freshmen) every day what it takes to have that championship.”

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Bryan Palmero | Daily Bruin senior staff
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a Sports reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student.
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a Sports reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student.
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