UCLA men’s basketball to battle Northwestern for spot in Sweet 16
Redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell dribbles beyond the arc. No. 2 seed UCLA men’s basketball will take on No. 7 seed Northwestern on Saturday after a first-round win over No. 15 seed UNC Asheville in the NCAA Tournament. (Anika Chakrabarti/Photo editor)
No. 7 seed Northwestern
Saturday, 5:40 p.m.
Golden 1 Center
By Francis Moon
March 18, 2023 11:30 a.m.
Mick Cronin is no stranger to the big stage.
Leading up to his arrival to Westwood in 2019, the coach had led Cincinnati to nine consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and added two more while at the helm of Murray State.
Cronin has since guided the Bruins to the Big Dance in every year excluding 2020, when the tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, adding onto the legacy of a team that has received more tournament bids than all but three schools.
The blue and gold’s next opponent is on the opposite end of the spectrum, playing in just its second NCAA Tournament in program history.
After taking care of business in the opening round, No. 2 seed UCLA men’s basketball (30-5, 18-2 Pac-12) will face No. 7 seed Northwestern (22-11, 12-8 Big Ten) at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Saturday evening with a Sweet 16 berth on the line. After making their tournament debut in 2017 with a second-round exit, the Wildcats advanced to the Round of 32 once again with a victory over No. 10 seed Boise State on Thursday.
Cronin said the discrepancy in tournament experience is not a reason for the Bruins to take Northwestern for granted.
“If it’s talent or experience, give me talent,” Cronin said. “You just never know how things shake out in those type of situations. If I was a Northwestern fan, I wouldn’t be worried about their inexperience.”
The Wildcats are led on offense by guard Boo Buie, a true senior who has averaged 17.3 points across 33 games this year, including a team-leading 22-point effort against the Broncos, while adding five assists and five rebounds. But redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell said Northwestern is far from a one-man show.
“We’re more worried about how we’re going to stop them as a team as opposed to just stopping one person,” Campbell said. “They have a good group of guys over there and they play really hard.”
Guard Chase Audige – selected as one of four finalists for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award alongside UCLA’s junior guard Jaylen Clark – rounds out one of the most productive backcourts in the Big Ten this year. Averaging 2.4 steals per contest, Audige is also the Wildcats’ second option on offense behind Buie and has posted 14 points per game this season.
Senior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. said Northwestern brings a level of physicality that his team is excited to compete against, expecting a slower game than UCLA’s 86-53 first-round win over UNC Asheville.
“The Big Ten is known for how physical they play. Northwestern is no exception to that,” Jaquez said. “But we’re also a very physical team. … That’s something we’re going to have to prepare for and we’re looking forward to.”
UCLA will receive a boost down low if it can bring freshman forward Adem Bona back in the fold to match up against 7-foot center Matthew Nicholson. Bona sat out his team’s first-round matchup while dealing with a shoulder injury sustained in the Pac-12 tournament.
Cronin said regardless of Bona’s status, the team will have to account for Northwestern’s high intensity on defense, particularly its tendency to lean on its strength of trapping in the post.
“They know who they are and they’re never confused,” Cronin said. “They know what they’re going to take away. They know how they’re going to take it away regardless of who they’re playing.”
The Wildcats pulled off several notable wins this year, including their first-ever victory over an AP No. 1 team against Purdue in February, followed by a win over then-No. 14 Indiana to put themselves in the AP Top 25 for a week.
Entering Saturday with four straight wins against ranked teams, Northwestern will have to pull off one more to reach its first Sweet 16 in school history. Jaquez said although he is expecting a tight battle, the Bruins trust in each other to get the job done.
“When it gets down to the crunch time of the game, we’ve just developed a trust over the years, a trust in one another,” Jaquez said. “A lot of that experience is going to be crucial in times like tomorrow where we’re expecting a really good fight.”
UCLA’s bid at a third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance is scheduled to tip off at 5:40 p.m.