Jaime Jaquez Jr. ran down the court, accompanied by his coach’s voice screaming at him to set a screen.
The UCLA freshman guard was supposed to be a complementary player with the score tied against Arizona State on the final play of a taut game matching the Pac-12 Conference’s most sizzling teams. The plan was for Bruins point guard Tyger Campbell to drive and get fouled or find an open teammate.
As Campbell repeatedly dribbled the ball between his legs on the perimeter, probing for an opportunity, Jaquez circled back behind him and picked up a screen from Campbell.
Suddenly freed from defenders, Jaquez rose for a three-pointer. He fell down after the ball left his hands, following its arc from his backside.
“It felt good,” Jaquez would say later. “It felt good going off my hand, it looked good and that was it.”
That was it, and that was that.
Jaquez’s three-pointer fell through the net with six-tenths of a second left. The fans howled inside Pauley Pavilion. UCLA’s rise from January morbidity to an improbable share of first place in the Pac-12 was complete.
Jaquez allowed himself a moment of celebration even before the Bruins polished off the 75-72 victory on Thursday night, leaping to bump bodies with Campbell in the backcourt as teammate Chris Smith threw the ball toward an official so that the Sun Devils could inbound it. Jaquez intercepted the pass near the free-throw line, completing the Bruins’ sixth consecutive victory.
“Jaime’s a tough kid, man,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said after the Bruins (18-11 overall, 11-5 Pac-12) moved into a first-place tie alongside Oregon with two games left to play in the regular season. “He’s got amazing fortitude for a young player.”
There was more celebrating to come. Jaquez was mobbed by teammate after teammate before finally giving Kenneth Nwuba a piggyback ride on his way off the court.
Jaquez finished with 13 points, five rebounds and four steals for the Bruins, helping them strengthen a late-season surge that’s put them in position for an at-large NCAA tournament bid after losing three of their first four games to open Pac-12 play.
UCLA also got a boost from freshman shooting guard Jake Kyman, who scored 19 of his 21 points during a first half in which he made five three-pointers to help the Bruins overcome a 10-point deficit.
“Kyman looked like Larry Bird out there for a while,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said after his team’s seven-game winning streak ended in most disheartening fashion.
The Sun Devils (19-9, 10-5) had held a 72-71 lead after guard Alonzo Verge Jr. made two free throws with 1:56 left before the teams traded empty possessions. Kyman ripped down a defensive rebound with 54 seconds left and Campbell eventually drove and was fouled, making one of two free throws to tie the score with 40 seconds to play.
Arizona State’s Remy Martin, who led all scorers with 30 points, hoisted a three-pointer that went off the side of the rim and out of bounds with 16.3 seconds left. Cronin opted to let his team inbounds the ball immediately instead of taking a timeout because he feared that Hurley would use the extra time to switch defenses and throw off the Bruins. It turned out the Bruins knew exactly what to do.
“Jaime was just so open,” said Campbell, whose final pass became his career-high 14th assist, “and I knew he was going to hit it, so I passed it back and he stepped into it and it was cash. I knew it was cash when it left his hands.”
A crowd of 9,626 that included actor Henry Winkler and former Bruins standout Luc Mbah a Moute went into delirium when the ball went through the net. No one enjoyed it more than Jaquez.
“You dream about shots like that in a big college game like that, a battle for first place,” Jaquez said. “That’s something I used to do when I was a kid. I used to go to the park by myself and run up and down the court counting down from three, two, one, hitting big shots like that.
“It’s something every kid dreams about doing. Tonight, it was amazing. It was an unreal feeling.”