Members of UCLA men’s basketball to compete in their last regular season road trip
Senior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. puts up a shot over a pair of Utah defenders. No. 4 UCLA men’s basketball will go for a sweep over the mountain schools this weekend after beating both Utah and Colorado in Pauley Pavilion in January. (Jason Zhu/Daily Bruin staff)
Thursday, 8 p.m.
Salt Lake City
Sunday, 1 p.m.
By Joseph Crosby
Feb. 23, 2023 3:05 p.m.
The final regular season road trip of 2023 will be the last for a number of Bruins.
But coach Mick Cronin’s team is still trying to enjoy the rest of its journey.
“I tell them to. I’m big on that,” Cronin said. “You need to have as much fun as you can right now.”
No. 4 UCLA men’s basketball’s (23-4, 14-2 Pac-12) trip to Utah (17-11, 10-7) and Colorado (15-13, 7-10) on Thursday and Sunday, respectively, may be its last time hitting the road in the regular season, but there’s still a healthy dose of basketball to be played. With the Pac-12 Tournament and March Madness on the horizon, this iteration of the blue and gold is gearing up for a postseason run.
Despite that, senior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. said now is a bittersweet time for him.
“I want March to start already,” Jaquez said. “But at the same time, I’m trying to take my sweet time with it and enjoy every moment. We got one last road trip coming up here, so we’re going to make the most of it.”
Since coming to UCLA in 2019, Jaquez has started in 116 games for the Bruins, just 18 shy of Josh Shipp’s all-time record for most starts in program history.
While Jaquez, redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell and fifth-year guard David Singleton may be staring down their final games in the blue and gold, Cronin doesn’t want the group to forget about the little things.
“They’ve got to enjoy it … because it’s the best time they’ll ever have playing basketball,” Cronin said. “Not only is it college basketball, but look where you’re going to school. So, you’ve got to enjoy it.”
The fourth-year coach has certainly cultivated a winning program, with a record of 91-34, a Sweet 16 berth and a Final Four appearance in his short time in Westwood. Cronin joked that Jaquez has enjoyed his time with UCLA so much that he never wants to leave.
“Jaime is literally depressed that it’s going to be over. That’s how much he loves being here,” Cronin said. “He really said, ‘I would spend five more years if I could.’ I said, ‘Well, NIL’s not big enough.’”
The Bruins are still hunting for their first Pac-12 regular season and tournament championships since 2013 and 2014, respectively. Currently sitting 1.5 games up over No. 7 Arizona, a win in Utah on Thursday would give UCLA a two-game lead heading into the final three games of the regular season.
The Bruins have gone a combined 5-1 in Salt Lake City and Boulder under Cronin, with the lone loss coming against Colorado in 2021.
The Bruins took down the Utes and the Buffaloes each by double digits when the pair of schools visited Pauley Pavilion in January. However, Utah’s trip to Westwood earlier this season came without the presence of 7-foot center Branden Carlson, who ranks in the top six in the Pac-12 in scoring, rebounding and blocking.
Campbell said ball control and defense will be integral to having success at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
“We just have to play composed,” Campbell said. “On the road, you can’t turn it over, and your defense really has to do its thing.”
Preventing turnovers and playing strong defense have been common themes for Cronin’s squad this season. UCLA possesses the best turnover margin in college basketball, backed up by the sixth-best scoring defense.
As the Bruins prepare to carry their defensive prowess into Utah on Thursday, Jaquez made it clear that the team knows how important its final four regular-season games are.
“This is where you put in all the hard work – for now, this time of the year. It’s crucial,” Jaquez said. “This is winning time.”