Take the win, and that part of the long journey complete, Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. continue on. in the last minute of their final home game together on Saturday night.
As spirited roars from the sold-out crowd inside Pauley Pavilion, UCLA seniors touched their foreheads in acknowledgment of all they meant to this team and each other.
Said Campbell: “It’s a crazy feeling to feel like I’m alone and Jaime can really experience it. He’s my brother here and for me to go with him for four years, it’s been amazing.”
“For me, I think it was, ‘We did it,’ but at the same time we’re not done,” said Jacques. “
Face the biggest challenges because these guys have shown that they can easily handle every obstacle the Pac-12 puts their way. Even eighth-ranked Arizona were no match on a night when Campbell and teammate David Singleton secured a happy bye during the fourth-ranked Bruins. 82-73 victory.
Singleton buried one triple pointer after another. Campbell was constantly outdoing the mighty jumpers, as if the basketball gods were rewarding him for all those years of toil. Jaquez made a holding float and was fouled on it, prompting fans to chant “MVP!”
It may have been a perfectly happy ending to a night when the Bruins extended their winning streak to 10 games and finished undefeated at home for the first time since the 2006-07 season, bar one major setback.
Junior guard Jaylen Clark, the Bruins’ top defenseman, left the game with what appears to be a serious injury considering he returned to the bench on crutches. UCLA coach Mick Cronin said Clark will undergo an MRI on Sunday to determine the extent of his injury.
Clark’s departure two minutes into the second half left those seniors to wrap things up. Oh boy, did they ever do that.
Singleton scored 17 points while making five of nine three-pointers. Campbell scored 21 points and four assists while making 11 of 12 free throws in what may or may not be his last home game as a Bruin, given he has another season of eligibility. And in a performance that could have clinched Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, Jaquez recorded 22 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals before leaving to deafening cheers with 32 seconds left in the game.
Jackie said while wearing a Pac-12 champion jersey and a custom blue cap made by a fan to thank the seniors. “Two SoCal guys, I mean, we’re living a dream right now of being Pac-12 champions, and winning the way we did on home court. It’s literally like a storybook to me.”
Along the way, the Bruins (27-4, 18-2 Pac-12) extended their longest home winning streak to 25 games while avenging the loss to the Wildcats (25-6, 14-6) from late January. Arizona Azulas Toplesthe Jackies’ primary competitor for Pac-12 Player of the Year, finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds for a team that finished four games high in conference standings.
There was a surprise before the hint when the Bruins revealed a starting lineup that included sixth singleton, backup big man Kenneth Nopa, fourth guard Russell Stong, plus Jackies and Campbell. Early in his career, Stong needed some help from Campbell to figure out where the first party was.
But Stong prompted instant cheers when he grabbed the first rebound and raised his arms when left open on the wing on his team’s first possession.
“He was supposed to hit three to get the game started,” Cronin said. “Jaime was supposed to set the fade for him; I didn’t think they would guard him.”
The pre-game tributes included only smiles, no tears. Each player was presented with a framed T-shirt, which he lifted triumphantly into the air. Jacky’s dad wrapped Cronin in a bear hug and lifted him into the air.
“It’s not hard,” cracked Cronin, who kissed the elder Jackie on the cheek.
This victory could have a lasting impact.
ESPN’s Joe Lonardi lifted the Bruins to the top seed in the West in the NCAA Tournament due to Saturday’s results.
It was a farewell, the Bruins hope, a precursor to something more important.
“Student. Incurable problem solver. Amateur baconaholic. Introvert. Infuriatingly humble music fanatic.”