First, Kansas went down in grand fashion.

Then, Adem Bona was back in the UCLA lineup, giving Mick Cronin the emotional boost he so badly needed.

Finally — and I mean finally — the Bruins outlasted a Northwestern team that would not go away quietly.

It was all looking so great.

Then David Singleton had to go and twist his ankle, twisting the hearts of UCLA fans along with it. And now, instead of celebrating a third-straight Sweet 16 relatively stress-free, Bruin backers have to sweat Singleton’s potential sprain.

How perfectly Pac-12. Three steps forward, and one more awkward step forward, and UCLA’s already perilously painful path to the Final Four gets that much trickier.


When Singleton crumpled to the ground with 20 seconds left after being fouled by Northwestern’s Ty Berry, you could feel the energy drain from Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center. Hasn’t UCLA been through enough?

Losing Jaylen Clark, one of the best defenders in all of college basketball, on the precipice of the postseason? Isn’t that enough?

Losing Bona in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament? Is that not enough?

Apparently, it was enough. Despite an anguishing moment where Singleton laid on the ground on agony as he embraced a UCLA basketball trainer, and despite needing help off the court and back into the locker room, after the game, the UCLA senior who has played in 162 career games assured reporters that he would not miss the next one.

For UCLA fans, it was the best news they could hear.

Which is a surprise, because earlier in the day, the news was pretty darn good.


The NCAA Tournament is all about split attention, one eye on the present, one on the future. You can’t help but look ahead.

And, starting March Madness, the Bruins were looking at a murky future.

The loss of Clark and then Bona and then a Pac-12 Tournament title game loss to Arizona assured UCLA it would not get a coveted No. 1 seed. Worse, they were given a Final Four path that likely led straight through Gonzaga — a rivalry laden with emotion — and Kansas, the defending national champion, which had spent much of the season in the Top 5.

On Saturday, one of the beasts was slayed, as the Jayhawks fell to 8th-seeded Arkansas, 72-71. Now the best team in the country a year ago is gone, and the Bruins’ gauntlet is that much easier. Well, maybe easier is not the right word.

The winner of Gonzaga and TCU awaits on Thursday, and then either Arkansas or the winner of tomorrow’s tasty Round of 32 showdown between UConn and Saint Mary’s.

But there’s one thing different between all of those teams and Kansas. The Jayhawks won it all last year.


Kansas’ loss wasn’t the only bit of good news UCLA got on Saturday.

All week long, Bona’s status was above the fold for Bruins fans who know the team desperately needs his defense, his energy and his production to make a sustained run, particularly in Clark’s absence. When the league’s freshman player of the year went down with a shoulder injury against the Ducks, it felt like the basketball gods had cursed UCLA.

This was a team that has dealt with injuries to Jaquez and Johnny Juzang in recent years, injuries that derailed the biggest of aspirations.

So when it was announced that Bona had returned to the starting lineup, all those aspirations rushed back. And when Bona dunked home an alley-oop from fellow freshman phenom Amari Bailey to give the Bruins an early 7-5 lead minutes into the game, that hope was reinforced.

While Bona scored just 6 points and grabbed 1 rebound in 20 minutes of action, he went 3-for-3 from the field and had 2 meaningful blocks, and most importantly, he played through the pain.

“The fact that he’s out there shows you what a warrior he is,” Cronin said. “He’s really sore. I mean, he’s playing with a brace on. I mean, he could get a hit in it, he could reach for a ball. Any type of movement like that is going to aggravate him and it’s just going to be like that.”

Maybe Bona can share some of that Tylenol with Singleton, who appears to have shaken off his ankle injury like he shook off two bad 3-point misses late in the 2nd half. He missed back-to-back attempts with 4 minutes, 20 seconds and 3:43 left in the game, shots that would have put UCLA up by 6 points. With Northwestern struggling so badly from the field down the stretch, that might have been enough cushion.

And, ultimately, it was.

With 1:54 left on the clock, Singleton drained his final 3-point attempt of the night.

“We’re surprised when Dave misses because we see him every day in practice,” Cronin said. “He missed two open ones, (and) everybody was telling him in the huddle, all these guys, ‘Hey, man, shoot the next one.’ None of us were surprised when that went in. It was his first make of the game from three. Big shot. Guys got to make plays. The guys that make plays, the teams that have kids that make the plays, are the teams that are going to move on.”

Cronin breathed one sigh of relief when he made that shot, and then another when he was able to walk off the floor with assistance, rather than on a stretcher, and then another when he emerged from the locker room and joined his teammates on the bench.

“Looks like he didn’t break his ankle, which I was worried that he did,” Cronin said. “I was having flashbacks to when I had a full head of hair in the spring of 2000 running out there and Kenyon Martin was playing there. Looks like he’s got a bad sprain. Jaime will give him some of that potion that he used last year. I’m just happy he didn’t break his ankle. It’s been crazy for us here lately.”

Madness, really.

But that’s all this month is about. Six games to survive and advance, and no one survives unscathed. Least of all UCLA.

They dodged a bullet on Saturday, unlike some of their highly ranked brethren. But it doesn’t get easier from here, even with one giant slayed.