UCLA players constantly cycled in and out of the game against Chaminade, their lineup experiencing more turnover than an airport restroom. Jalen Hill threw a lazy pass that was stolen and got yanked 40 seconds into the second half. Tyger Campbell lost the ball on the Bruins’ next possession and came out about a minute later.
On and on it went, with one exception.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. never came off the court over the final 20 minutes.
It seemed curious for a freshman guard who had played only two minutes against Hofstra earlier in the week and had never logged more than 19 minutes in his first handful of college games. Even his parents wondered what was happening.
“You’re just waiting for that mistake so he can get pulled,” Jaime Jaquez said, triggering laughter from his wife, Angela, as they sat at a poolside bar the following day. “I say that being funny, but that’s kind of what we’ve been seeing.”
UCLA coach Mick Cronin stuck with Jaquez for 30 minutes in the victory over the Silverswords, citing his competitive fire and willingness to challenge his teammates, not to mention his 17 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and two assists that were all career highs.
A day later, Jaquez was rewarded with his first career start against third-ranked Michigan State, the perfect 80th birthday present for the grandfather who accompanied him to the Maui Invitational as part of a 19-person family contingent. He responded with seven points and a game-high eight rebounds, showing he could be every bit as tough as an opponent known for its pugnaciousness
Jaquez played a team-high 35 minutes, solidifying his standing as the player his coach trusted most.
“Hard to take him off the floor right now,” Cronin said.
The Bruins faltered in the second half against the Spartans, losing for the second time in three days, but they had found a champion competitor who embodied the spirit his new coach seeks as part of his rebuilding efforts.
“I mean, I just really want to win, more than anything,” Jaquez said. “I just want to go out and play my heart out whether I start or come off the bench. Anything I can do to help the team win, that’s what I want to do.”
That can mean diving onto the hardwood to chase a loose ball or jumping as high as his 6-foot-7 frame will take him to deflect an inbounds pass. Sometimes, it entails nothing more than using his voice.
Jaquez has become something of a motormouth, telling his teammates to stick together, play with toughness and get those all-important rebounds that lead to fastbreaks and second-chance opportunities.
It’s no stretch to say that he was born to play basketball as the first child of parents who met while playing the sport at Concordia University in Irvine. Jaime was a combo guard known for his defensive tenaciousness and Angela a small forward who became an All-American mostly because of her all-out hustle.
“I wasn’t going to let anyone beat me,” Angela said. “The girl I guarded wasn’t going to score.”
Father coached son since the day he first picked up a ball, teaching him to sustain effort and fight through setbacks. Those were lessons Jaime Jr. put to use last summer while playing for the Mexican national team that competed in the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Jaquez went up against some players almost twice his age and delivered as many blows as he absorbed.
“That helped me a lot coming into college,” Jaquez said, “figuring out how to get around a screen, how to box out, how to hit first and hit hard too.”
Now the Bruins’ first Latino player since Lorenzo Mata, a member of three Final Four teams, is making an impact that goes well beyond his averages of 4.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
If his recent usage persists, those numbers may not remain modest much longer.