UCLA coach Mick Cronin said before Thursday’s game against Colorado that not having Jaylen Clark in the Pac-12 Conference Championship would be an opportunity for other players to step up.
Freshman Amari Bailey accepted the challenge, and largely because of his season-high 26 points, the second-seeded Bruins not only beat the Buffaloes 80-69 in the quarterfinals, but continued their push for the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Bailey entered the game with an average of 9.6 points.
“I know he has that in him, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to get rid of it,” Cronin said. “It wasn’t his fault. I was trying to figure out ways to keep his confidence going.”
UCLA (28-4) has won 11 straight games 25 of 27, and this was their first win in Las Vegas in four games.
Colorado coach Tad Boyle was ejected with 54.4 seconds left on the call. His assistants should have tied him up before leaving the floor.
Frustration was building at Colorado State, as he had 11 missed shots to UCLA’s 31.
Boyle said, “We didn’t lose this game because of management. We lost this game because Amari Bailey has been great for UCLA. He played his best game of the year. … The difference in the game and our turnover (15) because when we drive over UCLA They are very active with their hands.”
Bailey surpassed his previous high of 24 points on February 9 in Oregon State. Tiger Campbell scored 18 points for Bowens, Jaime Jacques Jr. 16 points, Adam Bona 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Tristan Da Silva led the Buffaloes (17-16) with 17 points. Julian Hammond III scored 14, Jalen Gabidon scored 12 and Ethan Wright scored 10.
This was the Bruins’ first game without Clark, who was at least out for this tournament due to a lower leg injury. He’s a do-it-all player who averages 13 points and six rebounds and was named Defensive Player of the Year.
Clarke is a tough player to replace, but Bailey has shown he can get ahead in at least one game.
“I feel like we could lose a lot with Jaylen defensively,” Bailey said. “So I wanted to come in and try to do at least some things and play as hard as I can in defence.”
Colorado gave the Bruins everything they could handle, taking a 61-60 lead with 5:18 remaining. Jaquez then ignited a 3-pointer to give UCLA the lead for good, outscoring Colorado 19-8 the rest of the way.
“We’ve done it a lot this season,” said Jacques. “I have a lot of games under my belt here. I know a lot of my teammates do too, like Tiger and David (Singleton). When we get into these situations we know how to win. We understand that in bad times you have to hold back, and that’s what we did. in this match.”
The Big Picture
Colorado: The Buffaloes only have two seniors, so this performance is something they can build on for next season. If they get an offer to the NIT, that will be valuable experience.
UCLA: It’s hard to blame all of the Bruins’ defensive woes on Clark’s absence. But UCLA wins on defense, and its lack was noticeable as Colorado shot 58% in the first half and 51% in the game.
Colorado: The Buffaloes are waiting to see if they head to the NIT.
UCLA: The Bruins play the Semifinals on Friday night.
AP College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP–Top25
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