SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 17 points and UCLA raced out to a fast start and never looked back for an 86-53 victory over UNC Asheville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.
The second-seeded Bruins (30-5) scored the first 14 points of the game and rolled from there. Amari Bailey also had 17 points and David Singleton scored 11 as UCLA bounced back from a close loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 title game.
“We don’t take losing well at UCLA,” coach Mick Cronin said. “We spell fun, W-I-N. We lost our last game. These guys took it personal. You saw how they came out tonight. Our defensive intensity and our deflections early in the game I think really rattled them. They could never really get comfortable.”
UCLA advanced to play seventh-seeded Northwestern in the second round of the West Region. The Wildcats beat Boise State 75-67 earlier in the day.
Drew Pember had 13 points for the 15th-seeded Bulldogs (27-8). UNC Asheville, which won the Big South regular-season and tournament titles, has lost all five times the school has advanced to the round of 64.
“I give them a ton of credit,” coach Mike Morrell said. “They were the aggressors early, and they took it to us. You’ve got to give them credit for that because they were not going to be caught sleeping. I thought they were really good defensively. They just kind of really pushed us around all over the floor.”
The Bruins apparently took notice of what happened earlier in the day at this site when fellow Pac-12 No. 2 seed Arizona was ousted by Princeton 59-55.
UCLA made sure this game was never in doubt, making its first five shots and taking a 14-0 lead on a 3-pointer by Singleton just 3:06 into the game.
“It’s like the first day and there’s already so many upsets,” point guard Tyger Campbell said. “It just makes us lock in more because we know it’s possible. Especially earlier today, Princeton and Arizona. I think it made us come out and just understand that, you know, every team in this tournament can play.”
Jaquez scored inside to give the Bruins their biggest lead of the first half at 34-11 and they coasted from there.
The Bruins dominated in the paint thanks in part to Kenneth Nwuba and Mac Etienne combining to go 9 for 9 from the floor against the smaller Bulldogs.
“That’s what you’ve got to do in games like that,” Cronin said. “If you don’t, if your size and athleticism isn’t a factor, then it doesn’t matter if you’re high major or mid-major. You’ve got to high-major them, and we did that tonight physically.”
UNC Asheville: The Bulldogs came into the game on a nine-game winning streak and with a school-record 27 wins but were once again overmatched against a major opponent. Four of their five losses in the first round of the tournament have come by at least 20 points, with their only close game being a 72-65 defeat against Syracuse in 2012.
UCLA: The injuries that hit the Bruins in the Pac-12 Tournament didn’t hurt them in this game. Defensive stopper Jaylen Clark (Achilles tendon) is out for the season and freshman big man Adem Bona sat out his second straight game with a shoulder injury. Bona has a good chance to return for the second round on Saturday.
With a win on Saturday, the Bruins will advance to the Sweet 16 for a third straight season for the first time since 2006-08, when they went to the Final Four each year.
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