Why UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez is in race for Pac-12 participant of 12 months
The finish of his celebrated UCLA profession nearing, Jaime Jaquez Jr. sat at an outside patio on campus this week and reminisced.
About how dangerous he as soon as had been.
“As a freshman, the first couple of months, he thought he was terrible and he didn’t know if he’d ever play,” coach Mick Cronin mentioned, recounting the scene. “He goes, ‘I turned it over, you were all over me, I thought I stunk.’”
That’s now not a phrase anybody would use to explain the senior ahead, who’s more likely to end his profession as an All-American. These days, solely compliments apply. Tough. Fearless. Resilient. Savvy.
Maybe, earlier than it’s over, one other identifier will match: Legendary.
His play in latest weeks has enhanced his legacy on a group with nationwide championship aspirations. It’s additionally dramatically improved his standing in a two-man race for Pac-12 participant of the 12 months, together with Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis.
The statistics favor Tubelis, who’s main the convention in factors (19.6 per sport) and rebounds (9.1). The Pac-12 standings, and the ultimate minutes of a number of taut Bruins victories, tilt closely towards Jaquez.
Over his final six video games, Jaquez has averaged 20.8 factors and 10.7 rebounds whereas making 48.9% of his photographs and 47.8% of his three-pointers. Along the best way, he nudged the No. 4 Bruins towards the brink of their first Pac-12 title in a decade with a slew of late baskets towards Oregon, Stanford and Utah.
Removed from the NCAA match choice committee upon UCLA’s introduced departure for the Big Ten, Bruins athletic director Martin Jarmond didn’t maintain again his ideas about one choose involving his group.
“If @jaquez_jr isn’t conference POY something” fishy, Jarmond tweeted late Thursday, utilizing a fish emoji to make his level.
Though Jaquez’s averages of 17 factors and eight.1 rebounds path these of his high competitor, his group’s success may be the tipping level that provides the Bruins their first convention participant of the 12 months since Kevin Love in 2008. UCLA (24-4 general, 15-2) can clinch a minimum of a share of the convention’s regular-season title with a victory over Colorado on Sunday on the CU Events Center or an Arizona loss to Arizona State on Saturday.
Jaquez pushed his group nearer to that chance Thursday with extra late-game heroics. With the Bruins clinging to a three-point lead, Jaquez rolled off seven factors and a nifty help to Jaylen Clark in a span of three ½ minutes to assist his group polish off its seventh consecutive victory.
“He’s kind of one of our closers,” mentioned level guard Tyger Campbell, who added his personal dagger with a three-pointer within the ultimate minutes. “He just seems to know when to put the ball in the basket and when to pass, and he has everything that you would want out of an All-American senior.”
Cronin maximized Jaquez’s strengths with a small-ball lineup that supplied favorable matchups. Whenever the Utes double-teamed him, Jaquez discovered the open teammate, one bounce go alongside the baseline going to Clark for a layup.
There’s no extra room for self-doubt given a ability set that features making three-pointers and beating defenders off the dribble along with a wide range of strikes across the basket. Jaquez is one in all simply 10 UCLA gamers to make the college’s high 20 lists for scoring (1,620 factors) and rebounds (764).
“Look, Jaime’s a big-time player,” Cronin mentioned. “We’re talking about a guy that’s an All-American, he’s going to play in the NBA for 10, 12 years, so not a surprise” what he did on the finish of the Utah sport.
Jaquez credited his latest surge to the additional work he’s put in after observe on his shot and getting ready for strain conditions. He’s turn out to be the go-to man the Bruins want as they strategy an NCAA match that absolutely will contain extra nervous finishes.
“Coach trusts me with the ball in my hands,” Jaquez mentioned, “and I want to continue to earn that trust and have my guys have faith in me that I’m going to make the right play every time down the stretch.”
The ultimate choice for participant of the 12 months might come all the way down to the final sport of the common season, Jaquez and Tubelis going head-to-head when the Bruins face the Wildcats on March 4 at Pauley Pavilion. The winner of the award shall be introduced three days later.
If all goes nicely, UCLA’s season can have one other month to go, ending in early April. It nonetheless won’t be sufficient given how a lot Jaquez has savored his rise from not ok to among the many finest within the nation.
“Jaime is literally depressed that it’s going to be over, that’s how much he loves being here,” Cronin mentioned. “Now, he’s probably had enough of me, which I understand — I get enough of me at times — but he like really, he really said, ‘I would spend five more years [here] if I could.’”
His coach didn’t fake that he would possibly be capable of preserve his star past this spring, even with another season of eligibility remaining.
“I said,” Cronin replied, “ ‘Well, NIL’s not big enough.’”