UCLA Cruises to Quarterfinal Win Over Washington State, 75-65
The Bruins again rode Jaquez and Bernard to a win.
The UCLA Bruins entered the quarterfinals with a simple goal: don’t get injured. On that front, mission accomplished.
Sure, it would have also been nice to win, and that’s exactly what UCLA did, beating Washington State 75-65 to advance to the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. But what really mattered was that the Bruins remained healthy, especially in what was the first time in over three months that the Bruins were near full-strength. Especially on a day when #1 seed Arizona lost sparkplug point guard Kerr Kriisa for an unknown amount of time, it became more important than ever to stay healthy.
I want to give the Pac-12 Network postgame crew some credit here, as they mentioned that for what felt like the first time all year, UCLA looked at-ease on the court, and I tend to agree. Maybe it’s something about a tournament that gets this group going, but the Bruins looked locked-in and in control from the jump here in a way they really haven’t all season. The crew speculated that it may have been the weight of preseason expectations, which I agree with to an extent. It’s more that UCLA has received their opponents’ best shot all season thanks to those expectations, while they themselves had issues getting up for what were, ultimately, meaningless regular-season games. But the Bruins are locked into a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, and now that they’re back in a single-elimination setting, they can finally go all-out without worry. That’s going to be a major problem for their opponents going forward considering what we’ve seen this team do in the past.
Jaime Jaquez continued his blazing stretch of play in this game, putting up a double-double with a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds. And once again he got help from Jules Bernard, who looks revitalized these past few games. Their performances allowed some of the other players like Tyger Campbell to recede to the background while creating enough of a cushion for Johnny Juzang to feel comfortable with shooting his way back into form (Juzang was 3-8 from the field and got a few offensive fouls, as sure a sign as anything that he was pressing). Maybe most importantly, Cody Riley had a solid game offensively; he didn’t put up a ton of points, but he was calm and efficient with the ball, going 3-5 from the field. And don’t look now, but Myles Johnson is suddenly a knock-down free-throw shooter, going 5-5 from the line en route to nine points.
Defensively, this wasn’t much of a surprise. As shocking as it might have been at times, the UCLA defense really has been elite this season, running out to 11th in the nation in defensive efficiency per KenPom. Washington State’s best shot in this game was to get hot from deep, and UCLA just did not allow that to happen, holding the Cougars to 27.6% on 8-29 shooting from distance while cleaning up the boards and denying Washington State any shot at second-chance points. That’s going to get it done more often than not.
Jaime Jaquez led the Bruins with 23 points and 11 rebounds. He also tied Tyger Campbell for the team lead with four assists. Andrej Jakimovski led the Cougars with 15 points.
Player of the Game: Jules Bernard - Ok, it was really Jaime, but he’s gotten the shine the last few games, and I wanted to highlight the fact that Jules is rounding back into form at the best possible time for this team. With Johnny Juzang clearly working his way back from injury, Bernard has become a clear #2 option on offense and is putting up numbers to match, scoring 19 points on 7-12 shooting (4-8 from three) and looking much more confident in his shot. UCLA was able to go far in last year’s NCAA Tournament thanks in part to timely baskets from Bernard, and it looks like he’s ready to pick up that slack again.
Cleaning Up the Boards - UCLA held a 40-25 rebounding advantage in this game, which is good, but what really stood out was the offensive rebounding numbers. Washington State was only able to grab five offensive rebounds, and one of those was due to the ball going out of bounds off of a UCLA defender. Meanwhile, the Bruins were able to grab 28 rebounds off of Washington State misses. The Bruins were able to win this game in part because they limited any threat of the Cougs getting second-chance points, which really helped keep this game from getting close.
Keep an Eye On: Johnny Juzang - I’m just going to point out some numbers here: 6, 0, 12. Those were the point totals for Juzang in the final three games last year before the NCAA Tournament, with him not even playing in that middle game due to a nagging injury. Sound familiar? The point is, Juzang is a player who can rise to the occasion when the lights get brightest, so it will be interesting to see how he does as this conference tournament progresses.
The Bruins will play the winner of the Southern Cal and Washington game. As of this writing, Washington is leading at the half, so anything could realistically happen. I think the Bruins would likely prefer playing the Huskies instead of what would be a physical matchup with the Trojans, but we’ll know the winner soon enough. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 PM PT.