How sweet is that.
For the third time in as many seasons, UCLA is advancing to the second week of the NCAA tournament.
The Bruins are back in the Sweet 16 because another trend continued Saturday at the Golden 1 Center: the final minutes were still game-winning drives.
After fighting off a huge Northwestern rally that saw the Wildcats erase a 13-point deficit, second-seeded UCLA held off the seventh-seeded Wildcats for a 68-63 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Bruins’ celebration was muted by another season-ending injury.
UCLA senior guard David Singleton, whose 3-pointer gave the team a six-point lead, was injured when he slipped with 20 seconds left. He had to be helped off the court with 20 seconds left, but returned and wiggled his fingers as he walked off the court to applause from the crowd.
Jaime Haques Jr. scored 24 points, Amari Bailey added 14 and Tiger Campbell scored 12 for the Bruins, who rallied after making all the plays they needed in the final minutes. Campbell tossed the ball into the air after the clock ticked down to the final second.
UCLA (31-5) will play the winner of the second-round game between Gonzaga and Texas Christian in Thursday’s regional semifinal at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Boo Buie had 18 points, Matthew Nicholson had 17 and Chase Audige had 16 in the second half for Northwestern (22-12), which had its chances in the biggest game in school history because of its lack of basketball tradition.
An incredibly intense back-and-forth game tilted in UCLA’s favor after Singleton hit a 3-pointer to give the Bruins a 62-56 lead with 1:45 left after Adem Bona’s block gave their team possession. Northwestern’s Brooks Barnheiser made two free throws to pull the Wildcats within 62-58.
Northwestern got the ball back after Jaime Haques Jr. sent a hard baseline jumper into the air that flew past the rim, but the Wildcats missed two straight shots and UCLA’s Tiger Campbell grabbed a rebound with 42 seconds left. . Campbell was eventually fouled and made two free throws to extend the lead to 64-58 before Northwestern’s Boo Bui hit a short jumper with 23 seconds left.
The Wildcats fouled Singleton, who was in so much pain that he hugged coach Tyler Lesher while he was on the court. UCLA’s Dylan Andrews made both free throws with 20 seconds left before Buey missed a layup, effectively ending the Wildcats’ upset.
“UCLA!” chants echoed around the arena after Andrews’ 3-pointer from the wing gave the Bruins a 51-45 lead and ended his team’s 6-0 spurt. Just as it had done earlier in the second half, Northwestern rallied to pull within 51-50 on a three-pointer by Boo Bui.
UCLA looked like it might be on its way to a blowout when Bailey spun around Buie for a layup to give the Bruins a 41-28 lead early in the second half.
But in a sign of things to come, Jaquez hit a 3-pointer and the Northwestern fans let him hear it. The Wildcats then began to find the offensive rhythm that had eluded them in the first half, going on an 11-2 run to pull within 43-39 and force UCLA coach Mick Cronin to call a timeout as Singleton and Bono argued on the way to the bench. . .
Bono threw down a dunk coming out of a timeout, but immediately clutched his left shoulder, which he injured during the Pac-12 tournament, and left. Northwestern quickly took a 45-45 lead when UCLA’s Kenneth Nwuba was called by Buey for a field goal.
UCLA’s stifling defense did its job in helping the Bruins take a 35-25 halftime lead by holding veteran Northwestern backcourt Buie and Audige to five points on a combined one-of-eight shooting. Bailey and Dylan Andrews were particularly suffocating in their efforts on Buie, all the while taking away his lane while staying within range of foul breath.
The Bruins had much less success stopping Nicholson, who made all five of his shots en route to 10 points after scoring on a variety of lob and pick-and-roll plays. All three UCLA big men were equally ineffective at preventing those easy baskets.
In his first appearance since coming off the court cautiously during the Pac-12 tournament, Bono struggled early, save for a dunk off a nice pass from Bailey. Bono was called for two fouls in a 24-second span and exited after playing just four minutes in the first half.
Nwuba continued his amazing tenure as the Bruins’ best big man by blocking a shot that sparked a fastbreak that ended with a Jaquez dunk. Haques and Bailey were their team’s main heroes on offense, combining for 25 points by midway through the game.
UCLA’s press was also effective in the pocket, helping the Bruins to an 11-3 lead in points for turnovers before halftime. It also allowed them to go on the fastbreak as much as possible to maximize their huge athleticism advantage. At halftime, all 13 of the game’s quick lead points belonged to the Bruins.
After UCLA’s first-round win, Cronin joked that his sister, Kelly, would be rooting for Northwestern because she was a graduate of the Big Ten school. After seeing the spot, Kelly Cronin’s students at Summit Country Day High in Cincinnati, where she is the principal, put up signs in her office supporting Northwestern, but to avoid confusion, she wore a UCLA T-shirt.
“She’ll never be against me,” Mick Cronin said.
It would be a wasted effort anyway.