Jaime Jaquez Jr. powers No. 9 UCLA in a get-well rout of Washington State
It was a get-well card to themselves, complete with hearts and smiley faces.
Everyone signed it. Personal touches were everywhere.
Adem Bona flexed in satisfaction as he sat along the baseline Saturday evening, the UCLA freshman center having blocked three shots in less than three minutes. Jaime Jaquez Jr. slapped hands in celebration after sinking three-pointers and snagging rebounds on the way to another double-double.
Finally, most improbably, there was the literal signature moment, walk-on guard Russell Stong IV lingering on the Pauley Pavilion court to sign an autograph after his first appearance in nearly two months.
The most encouraging sign of all might have been the “We want Russell!” chant that broke out only a few minutes earlier. It meant the Bruins were comfortably on the way to a win over Washington State, putting the doldrums of recent weeks behind them.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. finishes with 15 points and 10 rebounds as No. 9 UCLA ends a two-game losing streak with a 70-61 victory over Washington.
Unleashing their most complete performance in more than a month, the ninth-ranked Bruins rolled to a 76-52 win over the Cougars that stretched the nation’s longest home winning streak to 21 games in emphatic fashion.
“Tremendous team spirit today,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “I was really proud of the guys with their attitude.”
Along the way to maintaining its spot atop the Pac-12 standings, UCLA (19-4, 10-2 Pac-12) conquered its biggest nemesis of recent weeks, avoiding a massive second-half letdown. Sustaining an intense ball pressure, the Bruins kept building their lead while outscoring the Cougars (10-15, 5-9) by 15 points in the second half.
“I thought we played with a lot different attitude, a lot more positive attitude,” Jaquez said after scoring a game-high 24 points and grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds. “Not thinking about anything else and just playing the game, I think that’s what won this game.”
The attitude adjustment came after one unnamed coach ordered players in a group text to bring more positive vibes no matter what happened, playing with all-out effort.
“So that’s what we did,” said senior guard David Singleton, who embodied those words by lunging at a ball headed for the stands, his body flying onto a courtside table.
The Bruins switched their defense by having freshman guard Amari Bailey pressure the ball out front and double-teamed Washington State forward Mouhamed Gueye, holding him to six points on three-for-13 shooting after he had singed USC for 31 points on Thursday.
“We made it really hard for him to catch the ball anywhere near the paint,” Cronin said. “It was going to take him a lot of dribbles to get there.”
Bona continually made things tough for his counterpart, blocking one of his shots and maneuvering around him for a layup. The Bruins outscored the Cougars by a 36-12 margin in the paint while also drastically cutting down on the turnovers that had plagued them two nights earlier during a near-collapse against Washington.
Cronin made reducing turnovers a priority, yanking players after every blunder. His team finished with only 10 turnovers, its best showing in that category in almost a month. Jaquez and point guard Tyger Campbell (nine assists, four points, three rebounds) combined for only three turnovers after recording nine against the Huskies.
“I was trying to make a point tonight, pretty clear,” Cronin said, “you’re not playing if you turn the ball over because we won’t win the Pac-12, we won’t go where we want to go in the NCAA tournament if you turn the ball over.”
After several recent lifeless showings, particularly in the second half, the Bruins again looked like a team capable of a deep postseason run. They remembered their defensive identity, making nine steals while forcing 15 turnovers, and shared the ball on offense, Campbell and Jaquez combining for one memorable give-and-go sequence that ended in a Campbell layup on which he was fouled.
Even their much-maligned bench came up big. Freshman guard Dylan Andrews provided a spark with his quickness, twisting his body around one defender for a layup, while also pressuring the Cougars into calling a timeout in the backcourt. UCLA’s reserves outscored their Cougars counterparts 17-0.
UCLA offensive lineman Atonio Mafi is sharing his journey to the NFL draft through a weekly diary leading up the event April 27.
Jaquez credited Singleton with holding his teammates in the room after a film session following the recent loss to USC. Realizing his career was nearing the end, Singleton delivered a message about cherishing every moment the Bruins have left together this season.
“It was just telling them you have to put your all into it, you have to believe in each other, believe in the coaching staff, believe in yourself and each other,” Singleton said.
Judging from the way they played Saturday, they believe.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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