Amari Bailey saves UCLA men’s basketball from Pac-12 tournament upset to Colorado
Freshman guard Amari Bailey converts a layup on a fast break. Bailey paced No. 1 seed UCLA men’s basketball with a career-high 26 points in its quarterfinals win over No. 9 seed Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)
|No. 1 seed UCLA
|No. 9 seed Colorado
By Jon Christon
March 9, 2023 2:28 p.m.
This post was updated on March 9, 2023 at 9:59 p.m..
LAS VEGAS — Despite having a roster chock-full of postseason experience, the Bruins leaned on a freshman to avoid an opening-round upset.
No. 1 seed UCLA men’s basketball (28-4, 18-2 Pac-12) avoided an upset against No. 9 seed Colorado (17-16, 8-12) with a 80-69 victory Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament. Freshman guard Amari Bailey, playing in his first postseason game, led the way for the blue and gold with a career-high 26 points.
“I knew he’s got that (scoring ability) in him,” said coach Mick Cronin. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to get it out of him.”
In the absence of junior guard Jaylen Clark – UCLA’s second-leading scorer who is out with an Achilles injury – Bailey had to play the part of downhill attacker. Twenty of Bailey’s points came either in the paint or from the free throw line, with the freshman going a career-best 8-of-9 from the charity stripe.
Bailey said he was trying to emulate Clark on the defensive end and let his offensive game follow suit.
“I just wanted to … try to make at least some of it up and play as hard as I can on defense and float throughout the game,” Bailey said.
Senior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr., meanwhile, struggled in his first game since being named Pac-12 Player of the Year. His 16 points were the fewest he’s scored in the last eight games, and his four turnovers tied a season high.
Time and again, though, Bailey bailed out Jaquez and the Bruins.
“He (Bailey) was able to get a lot of touches early to get into his rhythm,” Cronin said. “When you’re a young player, it helps get your confidence going.”
The freshman kept UCLA afloat in the first half when Colorado made seven of its first 12 3-point attempts. The Buffaloes went into the halftime locker room with 38 points, but the Bruins were right behind with 37 – thanks in part to Bailey’s 12 first-half points.
Freshman forward Adem Bona, meanwhile, helped Bailey in the first half with eight points. The freshman duo combined to shoot 8-for-11 from the field in the opening frame, with the rest of the Bruins connecting on just 35.3% of their first-half attempts.
Jaquez said the freshmen were the difference between UCLA moving on and being sent home early.
“It was huge,” Jaquez said. “This is what these guys do, and that’s who they are.”
Bailey exceeded his stellar first half with 14 points in the final frame, with all of his points either coming in the paint or from the free-throw line.
Cronin said Bailey’s ability to get to the charity stripe sets him apart from anybody else on the team.
“The way he drives the ball, we had to continue to get him to the foul line,” Cronin said.
Even with Bailey’s efforts, Colorado kept close to UCLA for most of the second half – up until a final knockout punch from the blue and gold. A 3 from forward Tristan da Silva gave the Buffaloes a 61-60 advantage with just over five minutes to go, but from that point on, the Bruins outscored their opponents 20-8.
Jaquez, who scored seven of his 11 second-half points in the final five minutes and change, said UCLA’s postseason experience finally emerged as crunch time approached.
“We’ve done it a bunch,” Jaquez said. “We just know when we get in those situations, we know how to win.”