No. 2 UCLA jumps to early lead, routs No. 15 UNC Asheville

Jaime Jaquez Jr. produced 17 points, eight rebounds and five steals as second-seeded UCLA dominated from the start and cruised to an 86-53 victory over 15th-seeded UNC Asheville in an NCAA Tournament West Region first-round game on Thursday in Sacramento.

Amari Bailey also scored 17 for the Bruins (30-5), who raced to a 14-0 lead and made their first seven shots from the field. The outcome was never in doubt after that, as the Bulldogs (27-8) trailed by 21 at halftime and fell behind by 33 in the second half.

UCLA’s superiority down low was such that it had more points in the paint (56) than UNC Asheville had total points. The Bruins were plus-15 on the boards.

UCLA will play seventh-seeded Northwestern, a 75-67 winner over 10th-seeded Boise State, in a second-round game on Saturday.

The Bulldogs’ Drew Pember, the Big South Player of the Year who came in averaging 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, finished with 13 points, two rebounds, two assists and six turnovers.

The Bruins prevented Pember from being the game-changing force he was for UNC Asheville for most of the season, as he didn’t make his first basket until there was 5:59 left in the first half.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin said, “We had a lot of respect for Coach (Mike) Morrell and Asheville. You can tell by the way we prepared. We try to come out every game the same way, and our defense was excellent. We got off to a great start and kind of shocked their kids a little bit.

“We never let Pember or Jones get going. I was really concerned about their 3-point shooting.”

Tajion Jones and Alex Caldwell each scored 11 for the Bulldogs, who committed 16 turnovers.

Jaquez, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, did most of this damage in the first half and didn’t play in the final 7:25. David Singleton contributed 11 points for UCLA, while centers Kenneth Nwuba and Mac Etienne each scored 10. Tyger Campbell had seven points to go with his 10 assists.

Starting UCLA center Adem Bona, who sustained a left shoulder injury on March 10 and did not play in Saturday’s Pac-12 tournament championship game loss to Arizona, was dressed for the game and went through warmups but did not play. Nor was he needed.

After UCLA’s 14-0 start, UNC Asheville briefly got the deficit to nine points, but the Bruins expanded their lead by repeatedly converting easy baskets in the lane and controlling the glass. When Jaquez hit a jumper in the paint with 7:12 left in the first half, UCLA’s lead had swelled to 34-11.

It was more of the same the rest of the way as UCLA played a drama-free game to easily avoid a second upset of the day for a second-seeded team in Sacramento. Earlier, 15th-seeded Princeton stunned Arizona 59-55.

–Field Level Media