Undoubtedly the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team came into their first game of the tournament in a bit of a downward funk. Firmly entrenched in the top ten all season, they failed to bring home the PAC-12 championship trophy, losing bitterly to rivals the University of Arizona. After a hopeful bid to get a number one seed failed, they learned they would be without two starters Adem Bona and Jaylin Clark. The Bruins absolutely came out fired up Thursday night and made no excuses as they soundly defeated UNC Asheville 86-53.
The Bruins have struggled all season with an inconsistent offensive flow and giving up leads early. They have always managed to claw back into games after going down ten or so points early, by playing fantastic defense and getting out on the break. This game would need no such swings. UCLA jumped out to an early 14-0 start, powered by five quick points by David Singleton. The Bruins defense was all over Asheville early with a few turnovers, letting them get out in transition. The Bruins moved the ball around with 24 assists on the night, which included Amari Bailey and Jaime Jaquez getting involved early on. Kenneth Nwuba, not usually known for his scoring, filled in admirably for Bona as he contributed a few quick buckets.
Jaquez has been consistent all year in scoring, as he led all scorers with 17 points. He was attacking the rim, cleaning up offensive boards, and even making a few jumpers. Amari Bailey was a breath of fresh air, as he found consistent offense tonight matching Jaquez with his team-high 17 points. When Bailey is aggressive and looking to get into his offensive rhythm the Bruins showed they can be a lot more dynamic on offense. Putting pressure on the defense with his floater and in transition, he gives them another focal point to rally around. He’s going to have to look to be a big part of this tournament run if the Bruins are hoping to have the type of deep run they’re looking for.
UNC Asheville was led in scoring by Drew Pember with 13 on the night, as he was their most consistent threat leading the team in minutes as well. Asheville struggled to keep the Bruins out of the paint and off of the glass. UCLA went an abysmal 5-16 from deep but had 40 rebounds to Ashville’s 25. The story of the game though would be turnovers, as the Bruins would enjoy a +8 margin in the turnover category.
The Bruins look to keep their good play up Saturday against Northwestern. Northwestern beat Boise State 75-67 in a game that was closer than it looked. Led by senior guards Chase Audige and Boo Buie, who combined for 42 points, Northwestern should provide stiffer competition in the next round, which represents a number two versus a number seven matchup.
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