By David Hayden | @SluggySports
Sports Capital Journalism Program
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – On the campus where John Wooden, the architect of the UCLA basketball dynasty, began a Hall-of-Fame career, the Bruins produced a comeback overtime thriller in the First Four at Mackey Arena on Thursday night. Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 27 points, a career high, to lead UCLA to a 86-80 victory over Michigan State.
UCLA (18-9) will face No. 6-seeded BYU in the first-round matchup Saturday night.
Jaquez, who played all 45 minutes, shot 11 for 20 from the field and 3-for-4 from 3-point range. Jaquez gave the Bruins a chance when he converted an offensive rebound into a basket and free throw to tie the score at 77-77 with 28 seconds to go in regulation time. Johnny Juzang scored 13 of his 23 points in the second half. The Bruins were down by as many as 14 points and trailed by five with just 1:29 to go in the second half.
“It says a lot about our team, the resiliency that we have,” said Jaquez. “We knew coming out the first half that’s not the half of basketball we’re used to playing. We knew we had to come out in the second half with different energy, defensive mindset and try to get steals in transition.
This was the fifth overtime game by the Bruins this season. “It was an advantage towards us because that’s the position we’ve used to playing in.” Jaquez said. “We’ve been in a lot of overtime games. When we get into overtime, we know that’s when we have to turn up the heat and really win this game.”
Jaquez scored 14 of UCLA’s 33 first half points to keep his team afloat. The mission was more than just scoring the basketball. “It was more of a mission of me doing what I can to help the team win,” Jaquez said. “Tonight, that was scoring. I tried to play as best defense as I could tonight. I tried to get deflections, steals, block shots, rebound and everything. My determination coming into this game was do whatever it takes to win.”
Michigan State (15-13) was in position to take control of the game. Aaron Henry, who led the Spartans with 18 points, made two free throws with 1:29 left to give Michigan State a 77-72 lead.
“Win the game…that’s a lot of time left on the clock.” Jaquez said. “I wasn’t thinking about losing this game, I didn’t think there wasn’t any chance we couldn’t come back and win. Winning was on my mind he entire time.”
A statue of Wooden, the 1932 National Player of the Year at Purdue, is a few feet from Mackey Arena. As coach of the Bruins, Wooden’s total of 10 national championships is five more than Mike Krzyzewski’s teams have won. On Thursday night, Jaquez helped the Bruins avoid a second consecutive First Four loss.
After making the second-half comeback, winning in overtime and scoring a career high, doing it on a March Madness stage made the experience that much better.
“As a kid everyone dreams about playing in this tournament and March Madness,” Jaquez said.
“You can feel the madness while you are in the gym. With as many fans as we did, you felt the energy. This is the greatest time of the year for a college basketball player.”