Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s clutch game leads No. 7 UCLA past Oregon to extend its Pac-12 lead
Its big men in foul trouble, its offense in a funk, its most exciting freshman playing on a bothersome ankle, UCLA turned to an old friend in its time of need.
Hey, Jaime Jaquez Jr., how about some help?
The senior forward was happy to oblige Saturday night, showing once again why he’s the Bruins’ most indispensable player. He buried jumpers off inbound passes. Threw a nifty bounce pass to Adem Bona for a dunk. Then, just as Oregon sensed it desperately needed to make a move, Jaquez made back-to-back three-pointers.
It was everything seventh-ranked UCLA needed to power its way to a 70-63 victory over Oregon in what might have been its biggest gut check of the season.
Amari Bailey scored a career-high 24 points as No. 7 UCLA shook off a slow start to put on a defensive 62-47 win over Oregon State on Thursday.
Jaquez scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half, including the knockout blow on a two-handed breakaway dunk after he came up with a steal, to help the Bruins (21-4 overall, 12-2 Pac-12) extend their advantage over Arizona to 1½ games in the conference standings.
“I just came to a realization — and we were just talking to the guys — like this is our last year here, we’re going to go down swinging,” said Jaquez, who made seven of 14 shots in the second half and finished the game with 12 rebounds. “It’s our last time here, we didn’t get one at USC so we definitely need to get one here before we left.”
UCLA’s first win on Oregon’s home court since January 2019 came after the Bruins opened the second half with a 17-4 surge, involving some smarts and toughness. David Singleton twice tied up Oregon players, leading to one turnover on the alternating possession, and Jaquez twice buried jumpers after taking inbound passes from Tyger Campbell. Jaquez followed with a fadeaway jumper that staked his team to an eight-point advantage, its biggest of the game.
“Our guys continue to play with unbelievable toughness,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “If it was as easy to play as hard as the kids are playing, everybody would do it. … With this team, we thought if we could become a great defensive team, we had enough firepower to win and win big.”
Cronin was most pleased with a defense that held the Ducks to six points over the first nine minutes of the second half, stifling them at every turn.
“We knew that we needed to get stops,” Jaquez said, “and the only way we were going to extend our lead was to get stops.”
Oregon fans were left to generate their own fun during a timeout “Animal House” video shown on the scoreboard featuring Ducks players in togas. But even that was short-lived, Jaquez stretching his team’s lead to 53-41 with two straight three-pointers.
“You know, he’s an NBA player,” Cronin said. “You know when you got one.”
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Predictably, the Ducks made a late run, stirring hopes of another wild ending.
Oregon pulled within 55-46 before Jaylen Clark countered with eight points in a row for the Bruins and Jaquez followed with his steal and dunk with five minutes left, sending fans streaming toward the exit.
Clark finished with 13 points as the only other Bruin in double figures.
Jermaine Couisnard scored 19 points to lead the Ducks (15-11, 9-6), who could not capitalize on the foul trouble that haunted UCLA’s front line from the game’s opening minute. Bona and Kenneth Nwuba fouled out, but it didn’t matter given the quality defense that Mac Etienne played in an extended cameo.
“Unsung star of the game,” Cronin said. “Not only did Mac play 14 minutes, he played them against N’Faly Dante, who’s the oldest, toughest big guy in our league.”
UCLA trailed 33-30 at halftime with its offense sputtering and Amari Bailey injured after the freshman guard hurt his ankle while landing on an Oregon player’s foot.
It was a humongous loss given that Bailey had been the Bruins’ most efficient player to that point, leading the team with eight points while making four of six shots.
In a huge sigh of relief for UCLA, Bailey returned to start the second half.
It was a win that could help position the Bruins for a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, if not their first Pac-12 regular-season championship in a decade.
After his team failed to pull out wins on the road at Arizona and USC, Cronin did not downplay the significance of the win.
“I think this was a good win for the players for their confidence,” Cronin said. “Obviously, they needed to win today, desperately. [The Ducks] were on the first four teams out [of NCAA tournament projections], we showed the team. It’s UCLA’s coming to town, like, the candles were lit for the party today and it’s hard to win those types of games.”
Jaquez blew out the candles, the Bruins got it done, a team on the rise surging toward March.
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