Jaime Jaquez Jr. leads No. 9 UCLA to rout of Washington State
It was a get well card to herself, complete with hearts and smileys.
Everyone signed it. Personal touches were everywhere.
Adem Bona bowed in satisfaction as he sat at the baseline Saturday night after the UCLA Freshman Center blocked three shots in under three minutes. Jaime Jaquez Jr. clapped his hands in celebration after sinking and catching rebounds en route to another double-double three-pointer.
Finally, highly unlikely, there was the literal signature moment, walk-on guard Russell Stong IV, who lingered in the Pauley Pavilion courtyard for an autograph after making his first appearance in nearly two months.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign of all was the “We want Russell!” chant that erupted just minutes earlier. This meant the Bruins were on course to a win against Washington State, putting the doldrums of the past few weeks behind them.
The ninth-placed Bruins put on their most complete performance in more than a month, earning a 76-52 win over the Cougars that emphatically extended the nation’s longest winning streak at home to 21 games.
“Huge team spirit today,” said UCLA coach Mick Cronin. “I was really proud of the guys with their attitude.”
On its way to maintaining its spot at the top of the Pac-12 leaderboard, UCLA (19-4, 10-2 Pac-12) defeated their biggest nemesis in recent weeks and avoided a massive second-half disappointment. The Bruins kept up intense ball pressure and continued to extend their lead while beating the Cougars (10-15, 5-9) by 15 points in the second half.
“I thought we were playing with a much different mindset, a much more positive mindset,” Jaquez said after posting a game-high 24 points and a career-high 15 rebounds. “Thinking about nothing else and just playing the game, I think that won that game.”
The setting adjustment came after an unnamed coach sent a group text telling players to spread more positive vibes no matter what and play with all their might.
“So that’s what we did,” said senior guard David Singleton, who embodied those words by lunging for a ball heading towards the stands and his body crashing onto a table next to the pitch.
The Bruins rotated their defense, pushing freshman guard Amari Bailey the ball forward and forming two-team Washington State forward Mouhamed Gueye and holding him to six points on three-for-13 shooting after he had seared USC for 31 points on Thursday.
“We made it really difficult for him to catch the ball anywhere near the color,” Cronin said. “He would need a lot of dribbles to get there.”
Bona kept giving his opponent a hard time, blocking one of his shots and maneuvering around him for a layup. The Bruins outplayed the Cougars by a 36-12 lead in the paint while drastically reducing turnovers that had plagued them during a near-collapse against Washington two nights earlier.
Cronin has made it a priority to reduce turnover and snap players after every mistake. His team ended up with just 10 turnovers, the best result in this category in almost a month. Jaquez and point guard Tyger Campbell (nine assists, four points, three rebounds) had just three turnovers combined after scoring nine against the Huskies.
“I was trying to make a point tonight, pretty clearly,” Cronin said, “you don’t play if you flip the ball because we’re not going to win the Pac-12, we’re not going to go where we want to go.” in the NCAA tournament when you flip the ball.”
After several lifeless performances lately, particularly in the second half, the Bruins once again looked like a team capable of a deep postseason run. Recalling their defensive identity, making nine steals while forcing 15 turnovers and sharing the ball on offense, Campbell and Jaquez combined in a memorable give-and-go sequence that ended in a Campbell layup , in which he was fouled.
Even her much-maligned bank made it big. Freshman guard Dylan Andrews provided a spark with his speed, rotating his body around a defender for a layup while urging the Cougars to call a timeout in backcourt. The UCLA reserves outplayed their Cougar counterparts 17-0.
Jaquez credited Singleton with keeping his teammates in the room after a film session following the recent loss to USC. Realizing his career was nearing its end, Singleton delivered a message of cherishing every moment the Bruins left together this season.
“It was just telling them you have to give your all, you have to believe in each other, believe in the coaching staff, believe in yourself and believe in each other,” Singleton said.
Judging by the way they played on Saturday, they think so.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/story/2023-02-04/ucla-beats-washington-state-jaime-jaquez-jr-recap Jaime Jaquez Jr. leads No. 9 UCLA to rout of Washington State