Gold: UCLA's freshmen save the day, and other Pac-12 takeaways from NCAA Tournament
Instead of a Sunday Funday with Sweet 16 bids on the line, the Pac-12 blew its chances for multiple March Madness runs with the losses of USC and Arizona State on Friday.
Now UCLA plays the waiting game as No. 3-seed Gonzaga and No. 6-seed TCU vie to become Bruins’ opponent next Thursday.
Here are my Pac-12 takeaways from Day 3 of the NCAA Tournament …
Baby Bruins continue to grow up in a hurry
Thrust into heightened roles with the loss of Jaylen Clark for the season, Amari Bailey, Adem Bona and Dylan Andrews played key roles in UCLA’s Round of 32 win over Northwestern on Saturday night.
Bailey had one of his most complete games of the season, scoring 14 points, dishing 6 assists and grabbing 4 rebounds. He had a scintillating pass for an early Bona dunk, and at times, he looked like the strongest, savviest player on the floor.
“What did Amari have? 14?” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “I was hoping for 18. But it’s my fault he didn’t get enough shots. Still working on figuring that one out. We tried to set a double for Dave, they ran over a guy, called the foul on us. I got to see the film on that one. I would always say you want talent and experience, but I’ll take talent. Amari has tremendous, tremendous talent. The more he plays, the more comfortable he gets, the better he gets. He’s just as good on the defensive end as he is on the offensive end.”
Bona finished with just 6 points but played his usual ferocious defense, coming up with 2 blocks while making some nice hedges and double-teams.
Andrews, meanwhile, hit a big 3-pointer as well as 2 clutch free throws in Singleton’s place when he went down with a last-minute ankle injury. Bailey gave him a nice little pep talk just before Andrews stepped to the line, a nice moment of both freshman kinship and young leadership.
“I was just saying moments like this he’s built for,” Bailey said. “All our guys get in extra work. I’ve seen Dylan shoot thousands of free throws. To see him go up and hit two, in this environment, I’m not surprised by it all. He just steps up to challenges.”
After the game, Cronin pointed out that the Bruins were plus-10 in Andrews’ 15 minutes of playing time, and Jaquez lauded the not-freshmen-anymore for their play.
“I think I told them after the first game, after you play your first game, you’re not really a freshman anymore,” Jaquez said. “We expect you to step up. There’s a reason coach recruited you. Coach takes pride in the players he recruits to this program. You can see that in the freshmen he’s brought in. They’re so big for us. We wouldn’t be in this position without them. I don’t think they’re freshmen anymore. They stepped up to the plate.”
Jaquez passes a legend
In his 11th career NCAA Tournament, Jaquez became UCLA’s 12th-leading scorer all time, knocking the legendary Bill Walton down a peg.
“Yeah, I mean, that’s kind of crazy. I didn’t know that. But it’s funny because we see Bill all the time in the mornings. He always does our games back at home. Just to be in a conversation with a guy that’s so great like that, I mean, I’m just blessed. I’m just blessed to be in this position, blessed to play under such a great coach, blessed to go to this institution.
“I don’t really know what to say. That’s crazy.”
Cronin lauds Collins for his Midwest roots
Call it flattery for a new neighbor, but former Cincinnati coach Cronin delivered some kind words for Northwestern head coach Chris Collins, who has taken the Wildcats to heights before unseen.
How’s this for a stat: While Northwestern hosted the first NCAA Tournament championship in 1939, it took until 2017 to play in a March Madness game, the last Power 5 holdout. Now they’ve gone twice under Collins, and they have wins in both tournaments, and a near-win on Saturday.
“I didn’t think they’d go away. I watched them too much,” Cronin said. “I saw ’em play during the regular season, because I root for Chris and Brian James. I have so much respect for Chris. He could have sat in Durham, North Carolina, and waited for Coach K to retire. He said, ‘No, I’m from Chicago, I’m going to go home and take the Northwestern job.’ We’re talking about a team that had never been to the NCAA Tournament. I respect that. He ran to a tough situation. Their team this year, I mean, like Penn State, somebody just told me they had a shot at Texas. Doesn’t surprise me because I watched them play overtime games.
“They’re a grizzled, tough team. They hit some tough shots. (Boo) Buie hit a step-back 3, (Chris) Audige hit some tough ones. Their hustle on the offensive glass really bothered us. And it didn’t surprise me that they came back at us.”
Cronin also had some kind words for Audige, who had 16 points and 7 rebounds and played a major role in the Wildcats’ second-half comeback.
“We lost him a few times on offensive rebounds, Cronin said. “The reason the game was close is they had 14 offensive rebounds. They took 15 more shots than us. I told these guys, it’s like playing us, because we try to turn you over. The turnovers were even. We lost him off of offensive rebounds. He hit one tough one. We told the guys he reminds us of Johnny Juzang. Great pull-up to his right, can make an open 3. He was in foul trouble in the first half. That was a big part of — it’s hard for him to score from the bench.”