The Bruins trailed for a mere 24 seconds Sunday evening, but the Knights made sure to keep them on their toes again.
No. 19 UCLA men’s basketball (5-2) managed to beat Bellarmine (2-5) by a score of 81-60, a notable improvement on their 75-62 win over the newly-minted Division I program in November 2021. The rematch at Pauley Pavilion one year later was hardly ever in blowout territory, though, as the Knights continued to pester the Bruins with their quick passes and knockdown outside shooting.
What ultimately kept them from staging a real comeback down the stretch was guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. and his season-high 27 points on 13-of-17 shooting. Behind his lead scoring effort, UCLA overcame a few bumps in the road to best Bellarmine in nonconference play for the second season in a row.
The Bruins were behind the eight ball even before the opening tip, as the team announced that their No. 1 scorer and top wing defender, Jaylen Clark, would miss the contest due to an illness. Even with veteran guard David Singleton stepping into Clark’s starting spot, UCLA opened the game 3-of-11 from the field and had hit just one shot in the opening five minutes.
The defense opened the game strong, even without Clark, as the Knights started 2-of-10 and only hit four field goals in the first 12 or so minutes of action.
Meanwhile, Jaquez started to take over with a pair of shots in the paint – plus as dunk – all in a span of 90 seconds. From there, the Bruins hit 17 of their next 21 shots from the field, and nine of those makes came courtesy of Jaquez.
After their cold stretch to open the contest, UCLA went 25-of-27 on 2-pointers for the rest of the game, with the only misses coming on jumpers by point guard Tyger Campbell.
The veteran floor general was the only starter to shoot below 50% on the night, but he did go 5-of-6 from the free throw line and end the game with a team-high 10 assists. Campbell also boasted a plus-22 plus/minus, which was second only to center Adem Bona.
The freshman big man racked up a career-high 16 points, in addition to his two blocks, one steal and zero turnovers. His fellow freshman, guard Amari Bailey, followed up on his own season-best performance against Pepperdine with a 12-point, 8-assist outing against Bellarmine.
Center/forward Kenneth Nwuba was the only Bruin to end the night with a negative plus/minus, finishing with a minus-2 mark in 10 minutes on the floor. Nwuba added four points and didn’t commit a foul or turnover, but his defense cost UCLA on several occasions where he failed to switch or correctly pass off his man.
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That led to some hot shooting streaks from beyond the arc for the Knights, who attempted twice as many triples as the Bruins.
Once Bellarmine stopped turning the ball over – they had 13 in the first half alone – they were able to compete. While UCLA had a double-digit lead for the final 29 minutes of Sunday’s game, they only led by 20-plus for 56 seconds.
Six different Knights contributed to their 11 3-pointers, the first two of which came from guard Garrett Tipton. His only points came in the opening 11 minutes, but he kept Bellarmine in it early before passing the torch to bench guard Ben Johnson.
Johnson hit a jumper to end the Bruins’ first real run of the night – immediately answering a powerful fast break slam by Bona– and he eventually followed that up with back-to-back 3-pointers. Forward Sam DeVault hit a 3 of his own in the waning moments of the first half, as did forward Curt Hopf.
Singleton got a triple to fall right before the break to make it 43-27, but not much separation had been created between then and the opening 12 minutes of play.
That theme continued into the second half, which opened with a Jaquez dunk and a Hopf 3-pointer. While Bailey, Jaquez and Bona were getting it done around the rim, Bellarmine happily traded 2s for 3s. After guard Bash Wieland hit his first 3-ball of the night, Hopf hit three in a row, and suddenly UCLA’s lead was back down to 10.
The Knights went just 1-of-9 from deep from that point on, though, while the Bruins hit 9-of-11 from the field to close things out. Singleton and the bench did not score a single point in the second half, meaning it was on Jaquez, Bailey, Campbell and Bona to successfully take it to the finish line.
That quartet shot 69.5% after halftime, and they had the win in the bag again by the time Bona threw down another fast break dunk with six minutes left on the clock.
UCLA has a few key nonconference games remaining on its upcoming slate, but the early portion of Pac-12 play will tip off the next time they take the court. The Bruins will hit the road to face Stanford on Dec. 1, with that game set to tip off at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
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