The UCLA Bruins entered their NCAA Tournament West Region matchup against UNC Asheville with a chip on their shoulder. The Bruins were just days removed from their Pac-12 title game defeat to the Arizona Wildcats. While the Bruins won the Pac-12 regular season title, they wound up extending their Pac-12 tournament championship drought to nine years.
UCLA used its loss to Arizona as a bit of fuel for its NCAA tournament opener against UNC Asheville. The Pac-12 powerhouse opened up a 14-0 lead in the contest, and it did not look back, cruising to an 86-53 win to punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament round of 32.
From UCLA head coach Mick Cronin’s standpoint, it did not come as a surprise to see his squad take care of business in convincing fashion on Thursday.
“It doesn’t surprise me because we lost our last game,” Cronin said after the game. “These guys are trained. We don’t take losing lightly. … I don’t care who’s hurt, who’s out, who you’re playing, where the game’s at, what the refs are doing with the whistle; you got to find a way to win.
“When we lost Saturday, I wasn’t happy, but I knew it was going to help us. There’s no question it was going to help us. I know these guys.”
Jaime Jaquez Jr. helped lead the way for the Bruins in the win over UNC Asheville, logging 17 points to go along with a team-high eight rebounds. The senior guard managed to bounce back from his sluggish 27.8 percent shooting outing against Arizona.
“I mean, I try not to dwell on it ’cause if we lose now, my entire season’s done,” Jaquez said after UCLA’s win on Thursday. “I don’t think it’s very hard to get me going or any of the rest of the guys, for that matter. I know this is Kenny’s last year, too.
“We try to get the young guys to understand this, understand that this is a one-and-out tournament, and we don’t want this to end.”
Next up for UCLA will be a clash with Northwestern in the second round on Saturday.