Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 24 points, and UCLA withstood a second-half push from Northwestern to get back to the Sweet 16 with a 68-63 victory on Saturday night.
The second-seeded Bruins (31-5) turned up the defensive intensity late, holding the seventh-seeded Wildcats to 1-for-12 shooting during a key late-game stretch to seal the win.
The win was marred when David Singleton went down in extreme pain with a right leg injury with 20.3 seconds remaining. He stayed down on the court for a few minutes before getting helped off by teammates and going straight to the locker room. There was no immediate word on the extent of the injury.
UCLA made it to a third straight Sweet 16 for the first time in 15 years. The Bruins will play the winner of Sunday’s game between Gonzaga and TCU in the West Region semifinals in Las Vegas on Thursday night.
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Dylan Andrews #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after a three point basket during the second half against the Northwestern Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Golden 1 Center on March 18, 2023, in Sacramento, California. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Amari Bailey added 14 points, and Tyger Campbell scored 12 for UCLA.
Boo Buie scored 18 points to lead Northwestern (22-12), Matthew Nicholson added 17 and Chase Audige scored all 16 of his points in the second half.
The Wildcats ended their second trip to the tournament in the same fashion as the first six years ago, losing in the second round.
They put up a good fight against the more tournament-tested Bruins and had a chance until going cold from the field late in the game.
The key moment came in the final two minutes when Adem Bona blocked a drive by Audige, sending UCLA out in transition. David Singleton hit the 3-pointer that put the Bruins up 62-56 with 1:50 to play.
UCLA controlled the game early, contesting nearly every shot and neutralizing Northwestern's high-scoring backcourt of Buie and Audige.
UCLA players celebrate near the end of a win in a first-round college basketball game against UNC Asheville in the men's NCAA Tournament in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, March 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Randall Benton)
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Jaquez fueled a 12-2 run midway through the half to build up an 11-point lead, getting a steal and dunk, followed by another dunk in transition following a blocked shot by Kenneth Nwuba.
Buie finally made his first basket of the game with a drive just before the buzzer to cut UCLA's lead to 35-25 at the break.
Audige got going in the second half with 14 points in the first eight minutes after being held scoreless before the break. The Wildcats tied it at 45 when Buie was credited with a basket on a goaltending call midway through the half.
The game remained close from there until the end.
Northwestern: The Wildcats followed up their first tournament appearance with losing records for the next five seasons. Coach Chris Collins got them back into second place in the Big Ten in the regular season and now looks to build from there.
Amari Bailey #5 and Jaime Jaquez Jr. #24 of the UCLA Bruins react after a score during the second half against the Northwestern Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Golden 1 Center on March 18, 2023, in Sacramento, California. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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UCLA: Bona returned after missing the last two games with a left shoulder injury. He aggravated the injury on a dunk in the second half and went to the bench immediately but did return to the game and had the key block late. His presence will be key next weekend.
UCLA is two wins shy of its 20th Final Four appearance.