LAS VEGAS (AP) — UCLA coach Mick Cronin said before Thursday's game against Colorado that not having Jaylen Clark in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament would be an opportunity for other players to step up.
Freshman Amari Bailey accepted that challenge, and largely because of his season-high 26 points, the second-ranked Bruins not only beat the Buffaloes 80-69 in the quarterfinals, they kept up their push for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Bailey entered the game averaging 9.6 points.
“I know he's got that in him, and I've been trying to figure out how to get it out of him,” Cronin said. “It hasn't been his fault. It's been mine trying to figure out ways to get his confidence going.”
UCLA (28-4) has won 11 games in a row 25 of 27 games overall, and this was its first victory in Las Vegas in four games. The top-seeded Bruins play fourth-seeded Oregon in the semifinals Friday.
Colorado coach Tad Boyle was ejected with 54.4 seconds left after arguing a call. He had to be restrained by his assistants before leaving the floor.
The frustration had been building for Colorado, which took 11 foul shot to UCLA's 31.
“We didn’t lose this game because of officiating," Boyle said. “We lost this game because Amari Bailey was terrific for UCLA. He played his best game of the year. ... Our inability to get the free throw line was the difference in the game and our turnovers (15) because when we drive on UCLA, they are very, very active with their hands.”
Bailey eclipsed his previous high of 24 points on Feb. 9 at Oregon State. Tyger Campbell scored 18 points for the Bruins, Jaime Jaquez Jr. had 16 and Adem Bona totaled 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Tristan da Silva led the Buffaloes (17-16) with 17 points. Julian Hammond III scored 14, Jalen Gabbidon 12 and Ethan Wright 10.
This was the Bruins' first game without Clark, who is out for at least this tournament with a lower-leg injury. He is a do-it-all player who averages 13 points and six rebounds and was named the conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Clark is a tough player to replace, but Bailey showed he could step up for at least one game.
“I feel like we could lose a lot with Jaylen's presence defensively," Bailey said. “So I wanted to come in and try to make at least some of it up and play as hard as I can on defense.”
Colorado gave the Bruins all they could handle, leading 61-60 with 5:18 remaining. Jaquez then ignited a nine-point with a 3-pointer to give UCLA the lead for good, outscoring Colorado 19-8 the rest of the way.
“We’ve done it a bunch this season,” Jaquez said. “I’ve got a lot of games under my belt here. I know a lot of my teammates do as well, like Tyger and David (Singleton). When we get into those situations, we know how to win. We understand that in crunch time you've got to get stops, and that’s what we did this game.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Colorado: The Buffaloes have only two seniors, so this performance is something they can build on for next season. Should they receive a bid to the NIT, that would be valuable experience.
UCLA: It's difficult to blame all of the Bruins' defensive problems on Clark's absence. But UCLA wins with defense, and not having him was noticeable as Colorado shot 58% in the first half and 51% for the game.
Colorado: The Buffaloes await to see if they will head to the NIT.
UCLA: The Bruins swept two games against Oregon during the regular season.
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