The first stop on the way back to the Final Four looked like a dead end.
Overwhelmed and outplayed by a faster and more fearless team, UCLA faced a quick exit from the NCAA tournament.
Tyger Campbell stared back and didn’t blink.
The poker-faced point guard sunk shot after shot coolly, saving his team from embarrassment in the opening round against Akron while facing an eight-point deficit with less than eight minutes to go. There was a threesome from the corner. A midrange jumper. Finally, and highly unlikely, a three-pointer from the NBA range to a broken game at the bottom of the shot clock.
“We didn’t really stand a chance,” Campbell said afterwards.
They found one when Jaime Jaquez Jr. threw the ball back to his teammate, who looked at the dwindling shot clock and knew he had to let the ball fly.
It went in and the fourth-seeded Bruins were on their way to a 57-53 comeback win over the 13th-set zips on Thursday evening at the Moda Center.
With the comeback complete, Campbell finally showed some emotion and shook his fists before being besieged by cheering teammates. UCLA’s shortest player had made it big, Campbell scored eight of his team’s last 10 points as the Bruins finished the game on an 18-6 run.
“We didn’t panic,” said UCLA guard Jules Bernard, adding 10 points. “We were in these positions before last year’s tournament, and throughout our season. So we know what that feeling is like and we’re just trying to stay composed as best we can, knowing that our effort and hardship would get us through it.”
The Bruins (26-7) play fifth-seeded St. Mary’s in the second round on Saturday afternoon after the Gaels beat Indiana by 29 points earlier Thursday.
Campbell’s three-pointer at the bottom of the shot clock pushed UCLA into a 55-51 lead with 1:16 to go, earning him a handshake from Jaquez and a chest jab from Peyton Watson en route to the timeout huddle.
There was some drama left. After UCLA’s Jaylen Clark missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw chance and the Zips made a layup to draw within 55-53, they got the ball back after Jaquez had a turnaround jumper with 15 seconds missed the lead.
Akron’s Ali Ali drove for the basket, where UCLA’s Cody Riley blocked the shot with a left hand. Bruins guard Johnny Juzang caught the rebound four seconds from time, was fouled and took two free throws to secure a win that served as the best possible gift for his 21St Date of birth.
Campbell ended the second half with 10 of his 16 points and Jaquez added 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the Bruins, who won despite making just 35.2% of their shots. They prevailed in large part because they committed just two turnovers after a sloppy first half.
Campbell’s three-pointer from the corner put UCLA 51-50, and after Bernard pulled an offensive foul, Campbell gave the Bruins a 52-51 lead with a midrange jumper.
In its illustrious history, UCLA had lost to 13 only twicethseeded team that suffered that fate in 1991 against Penn State and 1996 against Princeton.
Akron (24-10) seemed on the verge of causing more heartache for UCLA as he went into the timeout group with 7:54 left. Zips guard Xavier Castaneda (18 points) had just made a back-to-back three and teammate Greg Tribble followed up with a flip in a layup while falling and being fouled by Clark. Tribble took the resulting free throw to increase Akron’s lead to 47-39.
During the warm-up, the potential for massive disruption was recalled
When the last moments of the 15ththSt. Peter’s triumph over second-placed Kentucky on the other side of the East Region Bracket was shown on the scoreboard, drawing a roar from the fans as some Bruins stared at the screen.
“It’s March for you,” Jaquez said. “It happens every year, teams get upset. And we watched the game and thought, ‘It can’t be us tonight.’
UCLA coach Mick Cronin had spoken of showing humility as his team went into the postseason opener as a 13 1/2-point favorite, but the Bruins were only humbled en route to a 26-25 halftime deficit.
At this point, the Zips were winning across the board, shooting 37% to the Bruins’ 32% while turnovering down and grabbing another rebound.
The day started out optimistic for UCLA. The school announced a new six-year contract for Cronin that will keep him at the school through the 2027-28 season and is expected to make him the highest-paid coach in the Pac-12.
But there was a bad sign – literally – on a halftime show on TV when host Ernie Johnson asked Charles Barkley to pronounce Jaquez’s full name, and Barkley got it right… but the placard Johnson was holding spelled Jaquez’s first name “Jamie.” .
Like the Bruins, it was just a little off the mark until Campbell got it right.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/story/2022-03-17/ucla-rallies-to-beat-akron-and-advance-in-the-ncaa-tournament UCLA rallies to beat Akron and advance in NCAA tournament