Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s scoring spree powers UCLA over Washington State in Pac-12 tournament
What happened in Seattle and Westwood came here.
Every time UCLA needed a basket to generate some momentum or extend a lead Thursday night, it found what it needed from Jaime Jaquez Jr.
The junior guard scored in a variety of ways during one stretch in the second half of the Bruins’ Pac-12 Conference tournament quarterfinal against Washington State. He buried a three-pointer. A contested layup. A layup in which he was fouled. Two more layups. A lay-in off an inbounds lob.
By the time the in-game layup line was over, the second-seeded Bruins were well on the way to a 75-65 victory over the seventh-seeded Cougars at T-Mobile Arena.
For Jaquez, it was the continuation of a recent scoring spree that started last week in the Pacific Northwest. His 23 points on nine-for-15 shooting to go with 11 rebounds against the Cougars encompassed 17 points in the second half, including 14 of his team’s 16 during one stretch.
“I would say just taking my time down there and playing at my speed, not trying to go get sped up or anything like that,” Jaquez said when asked about his success in the low post. “Just really slow down and be able to find my teammates as well when double teams come, just taking my time and be able to rise up and finish.”
No. 2 Arizona held off Stanford 84-80 while Colorado beat Oregon 80-69 in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament on Thursday in Las Vegas.
Jaquez punctuated his final basket, a corner three-pointer, by making a three sign with his fingers on the way back down the court. He has scored 30, 27 and 23 points in his last three games, erasing any lingering worries about the dual ankle braces he’s been wearing for a month.
“Kiki VanDeWeghe,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said afterward, alluding to a former Bruin with a knack for dominance, when asked about Jaquez’s recent play.
The Bruins (24-6) will play the winner of the late game between USC and Washington in a semifinal on Saturday night in their quest for their first Pac-12 tournament title since 2014. Before this weekend, they had not appeared in a semifinal since losing to Arizona in 2018.
Jaquez’s latest big game came with a supportive soundtrack in the Bruins’ first tournament game here in front of fans and their band since 2019.
UCLA’s lead was so comfortable in the final minutes that the throng of students behind one basket chanted “We want Russell!” in reference to the team’s favorite walk-on.
Russell Stong IV entered with 62 seconds left and got off a three-pointer … that hit the back of the rim before bouncing away.
Guard Jules Bernard was the other big offensive catalyst for UCLA with 19 points while making seven of 12 shots, including four of eight three-pointers. That was more than enough to offset Andrej Jakimovski’s 15 points for the Cougars (19-14), who made just eight of 29 three-pointers (27.6%).
UCLA’s defense arrived shortly before halftime, holding Washington State without a field goal for more than 81/2 minutes. The lockdown effort triggered a 21-2 run that transformed a taut game into a runaway, the Bruins holding a 40-23 lead before the Cougars scored the final five points of the first half.
The rise in intensity corresponded with freshman guard Peyton Watson’s entrance in the game, his activity leading to deflections that became something of a teamwide trend. Bernard followed a steal with a layup in transition as part of the Bruins’ big push.
“Once we get easy bucks in transition,” Bernard said, “that sort of gets our juices flowing.”
Strong defense was needed with UCLA’s Tyger Campbell in foul trouble. The point guard played just 10 minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls and his team’s offense was noticeably out of rhythm, committing five turnovers before halftime just one game after having set a school record with only one against USC.
That made Bernard something of a savior, his 13 points by the game’s midpoint coming after he made five of six shots and three of four three-pointers. One barely beat the shot clock, breaking a 21-21 tie, and the Cougars trailed the rest of the game.
A strong performance in the Pac-12 tournament could benefit UCLA at the NCAA tournament later this month, as the Bruins seek more March magic this year.
After being stuck in a shooting rut that began with the Bruins’ season reboot after a nearly monthlong COVID-19 layoff, Bernard has made 11 of 22 three-pointers over his last four games.
“Slumps happen,” Bernard said, “but I’ve been working diligently to try and get my rhythm back and coming in later in the night and shooting, stuff like that.”
Bernard and Jaquez have found their stride at just the right time, hoping it lasts the rest of this month while following them from city to city.
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