UCLA routs UNC Asheville to open NCAA event

The solely nervous moments got here a number of hours earlier than tipoff.

A slew of huge upsets put UCLA on excessive alert in opposition to one other Cinderella searching for a sprinkling of March magic.

None can be discovered after an early Bruins blitz of baskets eased any lingering fears. UCLA wouldn’t go the best way of Arizona or Virginia and get eradicated on the NCAA event’s opening day.

The massive query going through the second-seeded Bruins throughout an 86-53 first-round rout of 15th-seeded North Carolina Asheville on Thursday on the Golden 1 Center was how a lot relaxation the starters would get.

Everyone apart from David Singleton was given the ultimate 5 minutes 46 seconds off.

The victory was so snug that the Bruins didn’t want to make use of freshman middle Adem Bona, who was cleared to return from the left shoulder damage that had sidelined him since a Pac-12 event semifinal in opposition to Oregon.

He’ll seemingly play Saturday when UCLA (30-5) faces seventh-seeded Northwestern within the second spherical in a high-stakes preview of future Big Ten rivals.

There was no want for Bona on Thursday given his group’s dominance in each aspect whereas constructing a 21-point halftime lead that it stretched to 33 factors within the second half.

“It doesn’t surprise me because we lost our last game and we don’t take losing lightly,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin mentioned, including that senior ahead Jaime Jaquez Jr. was as upset as he had ever seen him after the group’s setback in opposition to Arizona within the Pac-12 championship. “We play to win at UCLA. It’s not OK to lose. When we lost Saturday, I wasn’t happy, but I knew it was going to help us.”

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Another enormous help got here from massive man Kenneth Nwuba. With two dunks and a layup, the fifth-year senior logged his profession excessive for factors in solely 41/2 minutes. He was so efficient that his teammates saved feeding him passes on the best way to 10 factors on four-for-four capturing to go along with 4 rebounds and two blocks.

“What does that feel like? Amazing,” Nwuba mentioned of contributing so closely alongside fellow reserve massive man Mac Etienne, who scored 10 factors on five-for-five capturing.

The overmatched Bulldogs had been additionally powerless to cease Jaquez. The Pac-12 participant of the yr made one artful transfer after one other, ending with 17 factors and eight rebounds whereas making all 5 of his career-high 5 steals within the first half.

“I think we’re playing a lot for Jaylen this tournament,” Jaquez mentioned, referring to teammate Jaylen Clark, who’s out with a lower-leg damage. “I took a page out of J-Rock’s book, trying to get steals, trying to be active with my hands, try to do it for him.”

UCLA’s Dylan Andrews drives previous UNC Asheville’s Tajion Jones to attain a basket within the first half of the primary spherical of the NCAA event in Sacramento on Thursday.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

The Bruins additionally bought a lift from freshman guard Amari Bailey (17 factors, six assists), senior guard Tyger Campbell (seven factors, 10 assists) and Singleton, who scored 11 factors lower than per week after going scoreless in opposition to Arizona.

The second regarded awfully massive for Asheville (27-8) within the opening minutes. UCLA ran its offense prefer it was going 5 on zero whereas the Bulldogs regarded utterly rattled on each ends of the court docket. The Bruins scored the sport’s first 14 factors, Singleton capping the run with a three-pointer and a fist pump as Asheville known as timeout.

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It didn’t get any higher for the Bulldogs, who shortly fell behind by 23 factors. Their greatest gamers, Drew Pember and Tajion Jones, each airballed three-pointers and Pember (13 factors) didn’t rating till greater than 10 minutes had handed.

UCLA dominated in each class, forcing 16 turnovers whereas committing solely eight, outrebounding the Bulldogs by 15 and outshooting them, 54% to 37.3%. The Bruins additionally pulverized Asheville, 56-24, in factors within the paint.

“That’s what you got to do in games like that,” Cronin mentioned. “If you don’t, your size and athleticism isn’t a factor, then it doesn’t matter if you’re a high-major or mid-major. You’ve got to high-major them, and we did tonight physically.”

Maybe none of it ought to have come as a shock provided that the Bruins confirmed up right here free and able to grasp the second.

Jaquez walked into UCLA’s media session Wednesday sporting a blue-and-gold beanie and holding up his cellphone to file the scene. He answered one query in Spanish — “rusty,” was the evaluation of the Spanish-speaking reporter he indulged — and defined his pondering behind the varied hairdos he’s sported over his 4 years on the college.

“I try to go through my hair, I treat it like the phoenix,” he mentioned. “I let it grow, I cut it all off just to be born again.”

What about these upsets earlier within the day? Cronin mentioned that they had no bearing on his group.

“We don’t believe in false motivation,” Cronin mentioned, “so we don’t believe that you need your home crowd to win. We don’t believe you need two starters to win. We believe that you need toughness and togetherness, playing hard and smart. There’s always a way to win.”

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Sometimes, like Thursday, it comes simpler than anticipated.