UCLA men's basketball sweeps Arizona schools, gets ready for Pac-12



UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year this week.

In what felt more like a celebration in Westwood, the UCLA Bruins men's basketball team defeated the Arizona Wildcats last Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion, 82-73. The victory completed a weekend sweep of the Arizona schools. Last Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins defeated the Arizona State Sun Devils, 79-61.

The victory over the Wildcats was the 10th consecutive win for the Bruins and their 24th win in the last 26 games. The Bruins won the Pac-12 regular season conference title with an 18-2 record, four games ahead of the second place Wildcats. The last team to win the conference title and finish at least four games ahead of the second-place team was Stanford in the 2003-2004 season. They finished five games ahead of Oregon that season.

The Bruins went undefeated at home this season and currently have the nation's longest home winning streak at 25 games. The 18 wins tied a conference record for most wins in the season by a team. The Bruins finished the season 27-4 and are currently the No. 2 ranked team in the AP Poll, the Coaches Poll, the KenPom rankings and the Sagarin rankings. They are ranked No. 4 in the all-important NCAA Net rankings.

The raucous sellout crowd of 13,659 fans had a lot to celebrate last Saturday night, starting with the Senior Night celebration for the seniors on the squad playing their final home game in Pauley Pavilion. Forward Jaime Jaquez Jr., point guard Tyger Campbell, center Kenneth Nwuba, guard David Singleton, and guard Russell Strong were all playing in their final game for the Bruins.

Bruin head coach Mick Cronin is in his fourth season as head coach and all five seniors have played the past four season for him, including the Final Four appearance in the 2020-2021 season. Jaquez and Campbell have started the past four seasons for Cronin and have been a big part of Cronin's success at UCLA. Cronin is 95-34 at UCLA.

For the third consecutive game, the Bruins found themselves in a double-digit hole early in the game. Arizona led 13-2 early and 23-14 with 9:24 in remaining in the first half. The Bruins defense took the game over from there, with the team going on a 15-0 run to take a 29-23 lead with 5:14 remaining in the half. Jaylen Clark's layup gave the Bruins a 24-23 lead, a lead they would never relinquish. The Bruins led at halftime 40-37.

At halftime, the 50th anniversary of UCLA's 1972-73 national championship team was celebrated. The 1972-1973 team was led by center Bill Walton and forward Jamaal Wilkes, both of whom were first team All-Americans. The 1972-1973 Bruins went 30-0 under coach John Wooden on their way to winning the program's ninth national championship and seventh in a row. That UCLA team ended the season with a 75-game winning streak. Walton and Wilkes were 60-0 in their first two seasons at UCLA.

The current Bruins, seemingly inspired by the halftime celebration, went on an 8-0 run to take a 48-37 lead in the first three minutes of the second half. The Wildcats never got closer than six points after that and trailed by as much as 14 points in the second half. With the loss, the No. 8 ranked Wildcats ended the regular season at 25-6.

The Bruins seniors won this game. Jaquez led the Bruins with 22 points and ten rebounds. Campbell added 21 points and 4 assists. Singleton made five three-point field goals and finished with 17 points. After the game, Cronin talked about the support of the crowd and this group of seniors.

"Dave (Singleton) was due to have a big night making some shots, so it doesn't surprise me," Cronin said. "When you lead the Pac-12 as many times as he has in 3-point shooting, it's always going to revert to the mean, and he had not been the best in our last five. Obviously, our crowd was a huge factor. What I would say to our crowd is imagine if it was like that every night and how big of an assist that would be for our team. I didn't think the (seniors) would let us lose today."

In the Arizona State game last Thursday night, the Sun Devils took a 12-2 lead with 15:21 remaining in the first half. After a timeout, Jaquez took over offensively for the Bruins, scoring 19 of his 26 points in the first half. The Bruins fought back to take a 36-32 lead at the half and never looked back.

After the Sun Devils game, Cronin was asked if he thought Jaquez was the Pac-12 Player of the Year. "I would hope so. Best player on the best team in the league." Teammate Jaylen Clark, considered the best defensive player in the Pac-12, was even more blunt. "I know he's not going to say it, but he deserves the damn award," Clark said. "I've guarded all the best, and he's the hardest person I've had to guard by far, not even close."

Last Tuesday, the Pac-12 conference announced the winners of the regular season awards and the Bruins dominated in almost every significant category. Below are the individual winners:

PAC-12 Player of the Year: Jaime Jaquez Jr., UCLA (Sr., G/F, Camarillo, Calif.)

PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year: Jaylen Clark, UCLA (Jr., G, Riverside, Calif.)

PAC-12 Freshman of the Year: Adem Bona, UCLA (F, Ebonyi, Nigeria)

JOHN R. WOODEN PAC-12 Coach of the Year: Mick Cronin, UCLA

The Bruins players and coaches were elated to see Jaquez selected as the Player of the Year. He led the Bruins in scoring and rebounding. Clark led the Pac-12 in steals per game at 2.6 and is the only player from the conference that was nominated as a semifinalist for the National Defensive Player of the Year. Bona was among the best shot blockers in the Pac-12 and really made an impact defensively with his athleticism. Cronin wins the Coach of the Year award for the second time in four years.

Campbell was named to the Pac-12 All-First team for the third consecutive season. Clark was named to the second team. Bona and guard Amari Bailey were named to the All-Freshman team. Bona also made the All-Defensive team along with Clark. Jaquez was the first player from UCLA to win the Pac-12 Player of the Year award since Kevin Love in the 2007-2008 season.

The Bruins will be in Las Vegas this week for the Pac-12 Conference tournament. All 12 conference teams participate in the tournament and the winner gets the automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament. The Bruins will have a first-round bye in the tournament. For the Bruins, they gain almost nothing from playing in the tournament and a loss could cost them a No. 1 seeding in the tournament.

UCLA will be without Jaylen Clark in Las Vegas, who suffered a lower leg injury in the second half of the win over the Wildcats. The hope is that he will be available for the NCAA Tournament. But whatever happens in the postseason, the 2022-2023 season has been a success. UCLA men's basketball is back, and Bruin fans can celebrate that.


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