The scene inside the UCLA locker room is similar to what you might expect after the end of a long drive in late January.
Players sat in their lockers, some looking at phones, others lost talking to teammates, no one celebrating Saturday at the Golden 1 Center. The only reminder that this was a special time of year is the big time NCAA tournament bracket The Bruins were placed at one end of the room, allowing designated poster messenger Russell Stong IV to take UCLA to the next round.
When a reporter asked senior guard David Singleton what the team would do to commemorate this latest victory as part of another deep run in March, Stong raised a victory fist in the air from his bench with three lockers.
“Team photoshoot and recovery,” the session interjected.
That’s what they are. That’s what they do.
For the third time in as many seasons, UCLA has reached the Sweet 16.
The Bruins keep playing because another trend continues: The final minutes keep winning over time.
After a massive Northwestern rally erased a 13-point deficit in the second half, second-ranked UCLA took down the seventh-ranked Wildcats for an intense, 68-63 victory In the second round.
It was a victory filled with Bruins redemption.
Point guard Tiger Campbell, who missed a late free throw in the Pac-12 championship game, went 12-for-12, including six straight goals in the final three minutes.
Singleton, who went scoreless in that title game loss to Arizona, buried his only three-pointer of the night to give the Bruins a 62-56 lead with 1:52 remaining.
Freshman guard Dylan Andrews, who missed a hat-trick in the Arizona game a week earlier, made a three-pointer from roughly the same spot on the field with nine minutes left in the game against Northwestern. Andrews also made two free throws with 20 seconds left after the departure of Singleton, who injured his ankle and had to leave the game.
Andrews said assistant coach Rod Palmer told him at the timeout pool that the Wildcats would most likely select him to shoot free throws, allowing him to start his routine as soon as he steps to the line.
“Just spin the ball, dribble twice, clear my head with deep breaths, and just me and the basket, that’s all I can see,” Andrews said. “Made both.”
There was widespread relief when Singleton returned to the bench before the end of the game and wagged his fingers to cheers from the crowd as he walked off the field.
“I just rolled my ankle,” said Singleton, who was diagnosed with a sprain. “I’m fine.”
It took comprehensive contributions by the Bruins to stop a valiant Northwestern effort in what is considered the biggest game in Big Ten school basketball history.
Jaime Jacques Jr. scored 24 points while passing Bill Walton for the all-time leading scorer at UCLA, Amari Bailey added 14 points and Campbell 12 with seven assists and no turnovers before throwing the ball up in the air after the final buzzer.
UCLA (31-5) will play the winner of Sunday’s second-round game between Gonzaga and Texas Christian in a regional semifinal Thursday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Bruins joined Houston and Arkansas as the only teams to make it to the last three games of the Sweet 16, with Gonzaga possibly joining them.
The Bruins will be accompanied by some special support at their next stop.
“Great, I’m going to Vegas!” Injured guard Jaylen Clark tweeted, adding an emoji of tears of happiness.
It was an incredibly intense back-and-forth game that tilted in UCLA’s direction when Singleton, who had missed his first four three-pointers, confidently rallied and finally got a one-fall landing, giving his team a late six-point lead.
“Once you don’t believe in yourself, it’s over,” Singleton said. “So I always have confidence – I believe every shot will go through.”
Northwestern (22-12) never got close to four points, Boo Buie missed a layup with 13 seconds left and his team trailed by six to effectively end the Wildcats’ chances. Bowie finished with 18 points, Matthew Nicholson added 17 and Chase Odig had all of his 16 points in the second half for the Wildcats.
Jaquez now has 1,773 points in four seasons, surpassing Walton’s 1,767 in three seasons.
“I’ll be sure to tell Bill when I see him,” Jackie gushed at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Singleton said the Bruins will celebrate upon their return to Westwood, possibly gathering at Stong’s apartment. There will be a group photo session along with epic video game battles.
“We have one TV in the game,” Singleton said, “the other TV we have on Super Smash Bros.”
The parties never get too intense, everyone knows there are more games to play, and more wins to secure.
“We’ll celebrate, but we know the job isn’t done,” Singleton said. “We made it to the Sweet 16, but we go to a school where they don’t hold anything but the national championships.”
Two wins, four to go.
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