Adem Bona sprawled across the court, using every inch of his massive wingspan to chase a loose ball. His immediate grimace and grip on his left shoulder as he remained on the ground made an entire fan base wince.
UCLA couldn’t absorb another serious injury.
Already short of their best defenseman, the Bruins lost another starter early in the second half Friday night at T-Mobile Arena when Bona lay on the ground for an extended period before getting up and slowly walking towards the changing room.
Bona’s absence alongside Jaylen Clark, who was out with a lower leg injury, briefly left UCLA with a roster no one could have imagined in the second half of their tournament semifinal. Pac-12 against Oregon.
Starting point guard Tyger Campbell found himself on the field with reserves Abramo Canka, Dylan Andrews, Will McClendon and Kenneth Nwuba. Never mind. For a breathless few minutes, Campbell was all his team needed.
Campbell took over with a series of moves, raising the decibel level inside the arena with each one.
There was a long jumper that he cashed in off the top of the key.
A cross dribble followed by a jumper.
A three point.
Another jumper that forced the Ducks to call a time out as Oregon coach Dana Altman wrinkled his face in disgust.
For perhaps the first time this season, Campbell was in the full “Steph mode” coach Mick Cronin had long prescribed. Campbell’s blistering streak lifted the second-seeded Bruins to a blistering 75-56 victory over the fourth-seeded Ducks.
“It was like poetry,” UCLA guard David Singleton said of Campbell, who scored 11 points in less than five minutes before finishing with 20 of his career-high 28 points. career, in the second half. “It was amazing.”
Bona returned to the bench to cheer on his team to their 12th straight win, smiling and celebrating as the Bruins closed out the game with a 29-13 run. He had four points, four rebounds and two blocks in 18 minutes.
Bona’s status for Saturday’s championship game against Arizona was not immediately known. Arizona defeated Arizona State 78-59 in the other semifinal.
“I have no idea,” Cronin said. “He looks good in the locker room.”
Forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Singleton scored 12 points for the Bruins (29-4), who turned a three-point lead into a double-digit cushion thanks to Campbell’s point barrage which largely came from mid-range jumpers. in pick-and-roll situations.
“I was really trying to make something happen,” said Campbell, who was asked before the season to become more of a high-volume shooter a la Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. “I believe in myself as a player and every shot I take I feel like it’s going to come in, and they just came in today.”
Guard Will Richardson scored 10 points for the Ducks (19-14), who may have lost their last chance at an NCAA Tournament bid.
Oregon couldn’t maintain the 22-13 rebounding advantage it built in the first half, outpacing the Bruins by just one after halftime, even with Bona out of the final 16 minutes.
“They’re bigger than us at every position,” Cronin said. “But that’s not the size you have. That’s how tough you are.
Symbolizing how his team came together, Nwuba made two huge blocks to spark the late push after Bona left. The save center surprised himself considering he had spent the last month dealing with hip pain. He said he is now about 95% recovered.
“Getting those two blocks today made me feel very awake,” Nwuba said, “like, oh, yeah, I’m back, I can go get it.”
UCLA literally cursed each other at halftime, with backup center Mac Etienne uttering profanities as he walked off the field after missing a shot to the edge in the final second of the first half on a superb pass from Campbell in transition .
The Bruins’ 32-30 lead at that point came courtesy of tight defense and a nice off the bench from Andrews.
The freshman guard followed up a float with a jumper before tossing a perfect lob to Bona for a monstrous dunk.
It was just another performance from a player who had resided mostly in the shadows.
“They train hard, we prepare them for a reason, we try to tell them their time is coming,” Cronin said.
“We tell them all year round, ‘Your time is going to come in March and we’re going to need you.’ ”
According to Bona’s shoulder, they might need even more on Saturday.