More than three hours before tipoff of his season opener, Jaime Jaquez Jr. strolled into Pauley Pavilion in a throwback UCLA letterman’s jacket.
Another big game was about to start. Little sis was about to make her college debut.
Jaime greeted a few fans before taking a seat between his parents six rows up near midcourt, his mother wearing a shirt showing both siblings with their last name running down the middle. Big brother caught a T-shirt thrown into the crowd and watched intently as sister Gabriela checked into the women’s game early in the first quarter.
As soon as Gabriela curled around a double screen to catch an inbounds pass and hoist her first shot, swishing the three-pointer, Jaime rose to shower her with applause. He was joined by teammates Mac Etienne, Will McClendon and David Singleton to watch the rest of the first half before they all departed to prepare for their game.
As if he didn’t want to be upstaged, Jaime put on his own impressive display to start the eighth-ranked Bruins’ game against Sacramento State. He took a bounce pass in transition from Jaylen Clark for a two-handed dunk. He benefited from a soft bounce on a jumper, the ball dropping through the net. He drove around a flat-footed defender for a layup.
UCLA’s first six points belonged to Jaquez.
Showing off his surgically repaired ankle and looking as spry as he ever has, Jaquez helped power the Bruins to a 76-50 victory that also came largely thanks to some across-the-board excellence from Clark.
Making all seven shots, Clark scored a game-high 17 points to go with eight rebounds, seven steals, four assists and one block. He followed one steal with a breakaway dunk and prevented a Hornets player falling out of bounds from throwing the ball off him by collecting it.
“For us, he’s got to be an elite defensive player because we have a team where he has to fill that role,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said while noting that Clark also had 16 deflections to go with his one slip-up of five turnovers. “We’re never going to play well defensively unless he’s all over the place. He just can do things other guys can’t.”
Jaquez added 14 points on efficient seven-for-nine shooting to go with seven rebounds, and Tyger Campbell had 14 points on an array of floating jumpers to go with two three-pointers.
Fittingly, Jaquez and Clark departed the game together with three minutes left and received a loud ovation as they clasped hands in front of the bench. Clark said he was energized by his ability to be a designated stopper.
“I just like going up and taking people out of the game, and it creates easy offense for me,” Clark said. “It just gets me going. My defense fuels my offense.”
UCLA has six players back from the team that went to the Final Four two seasons ago, but much of the interest Monday was in assessing the team’s six true freshmen.
Fans had to settle for five newcomers. Center Adem Bona was unable to play because of a one-game NCAA suspension regarding amateurism rules. He warmed up before the game and will make his college debut Friday night against Long Beach State.
Amari Bailey was the recipient of another exceptional pass from Clark in transition for a layup that represented his first college points.
Shaking off some early struggles, especially defensively, UCLA went on a 20-0 surge to make this a runaway similar to the one that Gabriela Jaquez enjoyed in the women’s game.
She finished with 10 points, largely on the strength of making five of seven free throws, to go with six rebounds and one assist in 22 minutes during her team’s 84-48 victory over Cal Poly.
The siblings saw each other earlier in the day at the practice facility their teams share.
“I was like, ‘Let’s go!’ ” Gabriela said, recalling a refrain she repeated when she saw her brother again in the middle of the doubleheader. “It’s really, really an amazing opportunity that we get to do this with the men’s basketball team.”
It could be the start of something special for them both.