UCLA's men's basketball team clinches conference title
March 2, 2023
For the first time in a decade, the storied UCLA Bruins men's basketball team has won the Pac-12 regular season conference title after they defeated the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder, 60-56 last Sunday. The victory gave the Bruins a three-game lead over the second place Arizona Wildcats with two games left to play. The Wildcats were upset on Saturday by the Arizona State Sun Devils on a 60-foot buzzer beater, 89-88.
The Bruins were led by star forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. who scored 17 points and point guard Tyger Campbell had 14 points, 13 of them in the second half. The Bruins trailed by 10 points in the first half but were able to cut the lead down to two points before halftime. The Bruins still trailed 52-50 with 4:11 remaining in the game after a three-point field goal by Colorado guard Nique Clifford. The Bruins defense took over from that point.
The Buffalos did not make a field goal for the remainder of the game. A sensational block by freshman Adem Bona set up a fast break dunk by freshman Amari Bailey, giving the Bruins a four point lead with 16 seconds in the game. With the loss, Colorado fell to 15-15 for the season.
Defensively, the Bruins are ranked in the top five in the nation in defensive efficiency and they are ranked 7th in the nation in scoring defense at 59.7 points per game. The Bruins lead the nation in turnover margin at 6.0 per game. Their defense and their ability to win the turnover battle has been the difference in tight games this season.
UCLA made 1 of 14 three-point field goal attempts against Colorado. The defense got them through this game on the road. UCLA head coach Mick Cronin, who is one of the 15 coaches on the Naismith College Coach the Year Watch list for the 2022-2023 season, is a defensive-minded coach who coaches his team to contest everything.
Guard Jaylen Clark is the best defensive player on a team full of good defensive players. Clark is one of ten semifinalists for the Naismith Men's Defensive Player of the Year award. He leads the Pac-12 in steals per game at 2.6 per game. Jaquez has made the Pac-12 All-defensive team the past two seasons. Bona is one of the top shot blockers in the Pac-12.
Jaquez was named one of ten candidates for the Julius Erving Award for the top small forward in college basketball. He is also a strong candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year. Campbell is one of ten candidates for the Bob Cousy Award given to the top point guard in college basketball.
Cronin did not think that coaching made the difference in this game. "Coaching only goes so far," Cronin said. "Coaching is overrated. Good coaching is you develop your players and put the ball in the right guy's hands. We had some good execution down the stretch, in spite of some of our foul trouble." The Bruins got the ball to Jaquez and Campbell late in the game, which a good coach would do.
For Jaquez, the win achieved one of the team's goals at the start pf the season, but they are far from done. "We are playing for something bigger than this," Jaquez said. "That (Pac-12 conference title) was one of the goals at the beginning of the year. This was a step in the right direction. We have an ultimate goal and that's to win a national championship."
The Bruins are currently ranked 4th in the nation in the Associated Press Poll, 3rd in the Coaches Poll, 4th in the NCAA Net Rankings, and 2nd in the Ken-Pom Rankings. They are 25-4 on the season. They have won eight consecutive games, 22 of their last 24 games and have the nation's longest home game winning streak at 23.
Another goal for the Bruins is to be a No. 1 seed and to be placed in the Western region of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The Western Region games will be played in Sacramento and Las Vegas. Even if the Bruins end up as a No. 2 seed in the tournament, they should still be placed in the west region.
The Bruins return to action on Thursday night, March 2nd against Arizona State at Pauley Pavilion. The Sun Devils are 20-9 on the season and on the bubble to make the NCAA Tournament. The game will start at 6:00 PM and will be televised on ESPN. The Bruins will take on the Arizona Wildcats at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday night at 7:00 PM on ESPN.
The Wildcats are ranked 8th in the nation by the AP Poll. The game is sold-out. There is no love lost between the Bruins and the Wildcats. The Wildcats beat the Bruins in Tucson and the Bruins were not treated kindly by the Wildcat fans. This battle, between two of the top ten teams in the nation, should be a raucous affair as well.