LAS VEGAS — — UCLA coach Mick Cronin said ahead of 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 rose to that challenge, and largely because of his season-high 26 points, the second-seeded Bruins not only beat the Buffaloes 80-69 in the quarterfinals, they continued to aim for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament .
Bailey entered the game averaging 9.6 points.
“I know he has that in him, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to get it out of him,” Cronin said. ‘It wasn’t his fault. It’s been mine to figure out ways to get his confidence going.
UCLA (28-4) has won 11 games in a row, 25 of 27 games in total, and this was Las Vegas’ first victory in four games. The top-seeded Bruins will play fourth-seeded Oregon in the semifinals on Friday.
Colorado coach Tad Boyle was ejected with 54.4 seconds left after arguing over a phone call. He had to be restrained by his assistants before leaving the floor.
Frustration was mounting for Colorado, which took 11 foul shots to UCLA’s 31.
“We didn’t lose this game because of the performance,” said Boyle. “We lost this game because Amari Bailey was great for UCLA. He played his best game of the year. … Our inability to take the free throw line was the difference in the game and our turnover (15) because if we riding at UCLA, they are very active with their hands.
Bailey eclipsed his previous high of 24 points on February 9 at Oregon State. Tyger Campbell scored 18 points for the Bruins, Jaime Jaquez Jr. had 16 and Adem Bona scored a total of 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Tristan da Silva led the Buffalos (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 at least this tournament with a lower leg injury. He is an all-rounder, averaging 13 points and six rebounds and was named conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Clark is a difficult player to replace, but Bailey showed he could leave for at least one match.
“I feel like we could lose a lot with Jaylen’s presence on defense,” said Bailey. “So I wanted to come in and try to make amends and play as hard as I could on defense.”
Colorado gave the Bruins all they could handle, leading 61-60 with 5:18 left. Jaquez then ignited a nine-point with a three-pointer to give UCLA the lead for good, beating Colorado 19-8 the rest of the way.
“We’ve done it a lot this season,” Jaquez said. “I have a lot of games under my belt here. I know a lot of my teammates do too, like Tyger and David (Singleton). When we get into those situations, we know how to win. We understand that you need to get stops in crunch time, and that’s what we’ve done this game.
THE BIG IMAGE
Colorado: The Buffaloes only have two seniors, so this performance is something they can build on for next season. If they get a bid for the NIT, it would be a valuable experience.
UCLA: It’s hard to blame all of the Bruins’ defensive problems on Clark’s absence. But UCLA wins on defense, and not having him was noticeable as Colorado shot 58% in the first half and 51% for the game.
Colorado: The Buffalos are waiting to see if they go to the NIT.
UCLA: The Bruins won two games against Oregon during the regular season.
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