SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The best news for UCLA came after the Bruins finished off their second-round win over Northwestern.
Key guard David Singleton didn’t break his ankle when he went down with an injury late in UCLA’s 69-63 victory over Northwestern on Saturday night, giving the Bruins hope that he might be able to return when they play in the Sweet 16 next week.
“I knew it wasn’t that bad,” said Singleton, who was on the court in pain for a few minutes before being helped to the locker room. “I broke my foot before. I didn’t feel it pop or anything. It was just hurting at the moment. I’m fine. I’m just going to get with my trainer.”
Coach Mick Cronin said the injury conjured up bad memories from two decades ago when he was an assistant at Cincinnati and star Kenyon Martin broke his leg right before the tournament.
Now he hopes to get Singleton back to a thin lineup already missing injured defensive stopper Jaylen Clark.
“I was having flashbacks to when I had a full head of hair in the spring of 2000 running out there and Kenyon Martin was playing there,” Cronin said. “Looks like he’s got a bad sprain. … I’m just happy he didn’t break his ankle. It’s been crazy for us here lately.”
Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 24 points and UCLA withstood a second-half push from Northwestern to get back to the Sweet 16.
The second-seeded Bruins (31-5) turned up the defensive intensity late, holding the seventh-seeded Wildcats to 1-for-12 shooting during a key late-game stretch to seal the win.
“We started getting up, switching up into them, bringing up the pressure again like in the first half,” Jaquez said. “I think we shied away from it (early) in the second half with just light switching. I think we picked it up a lot more.”
UCLA made it to a third straight Sweet 16 for the first time in 15 years. The Bruins will play the winner of Sunday’s game between Gonzaga and TCU in the West Region semifinals in Las Vegas, on Thursday night.
Amari Bailey added 14 points and Tyger Campbell scored 12 for UCLA.
Boo Buie scored 18 points to lead Northwestern (22-12), Matthew Nicholson added 17 and Chase Audige scored all 16 of his points in the second half.
“I wasn’t surprised the way we played in the second half because that’s what these guys have been, that’s what our team has been all year long,” coach Chris Collins said. “We have a fighter’s spirit. … I could not have been prouder of my guys.”
The Wildcats ended their second trip to the tournament in the same fashion as the first six years ago, losing in the second round.
They put up a good fight against the more tournament-tested Bruins and had a chance until going cold from the field late in the game.
The key moment came in the final two minutes when Adem Bona blocked a drive by Audige, sending UCLA out in transition. David Singleton hit the 3-pointer that put the Bruins up 62-56 with 1:50 to play.
UCLA controlled the game early and built the big lead by neutralizing Northwestern’s high-scoring backcourt of Buie and Audige and getting Jaquez out in transition.
Buie finally made his first basket of the game with a drive just before the buzzer to cut UCLA’s lead to 35-25 at the break.
Audige got going in the second half with 14 points in the first eight minutes. The Wildcats tied it at 45 when Buie was credited with a basket on a goaltending call midway through the half.
But they couldn’t close the deal.
“This is what we wanted, an eight-minute fight,” Collins said. “Give UCLA credit. Every time we made a run, they made big plays.”
Northwestern: The Wildcats followed up their first tournament appearance with losing records the next five seasons. Collins got them back into second place in the Big Ten in the regular season and now looks to build from there.
UCLA: Bona returned after missing the last two games with a left shoulder injury. He aggravated the injury on a dunk in the second half and went to the bench immediately but did return to the game and had the key block late. His presence will be key next weekend.
UCLA is two wins shy of its 20th Final Four appearance.