“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened,” are the famous words of Dr. Seuss. That saying could not apply any more to Northwestern basketball’s 2022-23 season.
While the Wildcats (22-12, 12-8) lost to the No. 2-seed UCLA Bruins (31-5, 18-2) 68-63 in the Round of 32, the team defied all odds, including in March Madness itself. NU overcame as large as a 14-point lead in the second half, battling the entire way against one of the best teams in the country.
Matthew Nicholson poured in a career-best performance on the biggest stage, dropping 17 points and nine rebounds. Chase Audige also poured in 16, all in the second half, and Boo Buie added a team-high 18. For the Bruins, Jaime Jaquez Jr. was nearly unstoppable, compiling 24 points and eight rebounds, while Amari Bailey chipped in 14 and six assists.
To begin the game, Robbie Beran drilled a wing three that gave NU a 3-0 advantage, but Campbell got the Bruins on the board with two free throws, and Jaquez Jr. sank a triple.
Nicholson ended UCLA’s 5-0 run in dramatic fashion, hammering home a dunk. Yet, Adem Bona responded with a flush of his own after a no-look pass from Bailey. The home side kept its momentum going after translating a Buie turnover into a Jaquez Jr. layup until Ty Berry sank a shot from deep. With 14:27 to go in the first, UCLA led 9-8.
Following the timeout, Kenneth Nwuba made two free throws. From there, both sides went scoreless for over three minutes until Campbell sank a pair from the stripe, making it 13-8 Bruins.
Finally, Northwestern’s scoring drought was broken with a backdoor cut and finish by Nick Martinelli, but UCLA responded with an and-one from Bailey. The Bruins led 16-10 with 11:32 left in the first half.
Nicholson continued to be an offensive force for NU, slipping past the defense for his second hammer of the evening. The Wildcats amassed more momentum after an offensive foul on Adem Bona, with Buie erasing a goose egg from his own total with one free throw.
Northwestern’s 4-0 run was brief, though. Jaquez Jr. deposited his second three, and the Wildcats went cold. Bailey, after seemingly injuring his right ankle, launched from beyond the arc, giving the Bruins a nine-point advantage and animating their fans. Brooks Barnhizer stopped the bleeding for the ‘Cats with a deuce, but at the under-eight, it was 22-15 UCLA with NU shooting only 29% from the field.
After a Bruin deflection, Jaquez found space for a layup, though Chris Collins was incensed over the lack of a double-dribble call. Then, Berry was blocked by Nwuba, and Jaquez sprinted down the lane for an emphatic slam. Collins was forced to call timeout with the Bruins roaring to an 11-point lead.
Jaquez kept up his prolific scoring with a dazzling display against Buie, which sent the game to the under-four with the Bruins leading by 13.
Out of the break, Buie tossed a smooth lob to Nicholson, but Bailey promptly sank an impressive one-legged runner. The two then exchanged buckets, and a slam from No. 34 in purple led Mick Cronin to call TO.
Buie earned two free throws after drawing contact on Bailey, reducing the lead to 10. However, with only 9.1 seconds remaining, Campbell was bumped by Beran and converted two from the stripe. In response, Buie angled ahead for a layup as the horn sounded.
At the half, UCLA led Northwestern 35-25 behind 14 from Jaquez Jr. and 11 from Bailey. Meanwhile, Buie and Audige combined for only five points on 1-of-8 shooting, but Nicholson had compiled 10. Likewise, the Bruins made 50% of their field goals, whereas the ‘Cats were at only a 36% clip.
To open the second period, David Singleton got on the board with a running jumper. Audige did the same moments later, draining a wing trey for his first points of the evening. However, Jaquez and Bailey maintained their unreal play, getting two nifty shots to fall.
Nicholson remained a one-man wrecking crew for the ‘Cats, cleaning up a Buie miss with a putback flush. Audige provided some outside assistance with two free throws, narrowing the deficit to nine — and amping up those donning purple. The redshirt senior then raised up for an impressive fadeaway jumper.
Jaquez Jr. put a halt to NU’s 6-0 resurgence, but a torrid Audige hit his second three in a matter of moments to cut the lead to six with 14:30 to go. From there, Buie tossed another lob to Nicholson — the slam made it a four-point affair, and Cronin called timeout.
Following the pause, Bona slammed one on top of Nicholson but was forced to leave, grabbing his left shoulder. Audige, though, could not be stopped, completing an up-and-under layup to keep the lead at four and crossing over Jaquez Jr. for a ridiculous layup.
The Wildcats had come all the way back after a goaltending call on UCLA counted a Buie shot — some might say poetic justice for what happened in 2017. Cronin utilized another timeout with 11:26 left with NU on another 6-0 run and the game tied at 45.
Jaquez Jr. proceeded to back down Barnhizer for a bucket, and Bailey made one free throw after a blocking foul on Berry. An errant pass from Nicholson got those in UCLA blue and gold on their feet, and the good energy continued with a Dylan Andrews. Collins was forced to stop the game with UCLA on its own 6-0 stretch.
After the reprieve, Audige drilled a stepback J, and Buie hit a three from the edge of the logo. The Bruins punched back, though, as Jaquez battled Nicholson for a tough layup. A jump ball after two Wildcat misses sent the dramatic game to the under-eight with UCLA up 53-50.
Buie knocked the ball away from Jaquez Jr., facilitating a made free throw from Nicholson to make it a two-point game. Jaquez Jr. atoned for the mistake, slipping past three Wildcats for two, and No. 24 tossed a sky-high pass for Bona that augmented the UCLA lead to six, compounding an 0-of-6 skid by the ‘Cats.
But Buie responded hastily, stepping back on Bailey for a major three. Both teams missed scoring chances inside of four minutes until Campbell drew a blocking foul on Barnhizer with 2:50 to go, The guard converted both shots, giving UCLA a 59-54 advantage.
On the ensuing possession, Bona fouled a flying Nicholson. The big man made both.
With UCLA on offense, Campbell fed Bona, and Berry contacted No. 3 in white. Bona missed both, giving the Wildcats a surge of energy.
Audige drove to the tin but was swatted by Singleton. The guard then sank an open three, and Collins called TO with 1:45 left with his squad down six.
A whistle on Campbell but Northwestern in the bonus and sent Barnhizer to the line. The sophomore was good on both ends of a one-and-one, and the score sat at 62-58 with 1:26 to play.
Despite a stop, both Audige and Barnhizer missed shots, and the ‘Cats were forced to foul with 36.9 seconds left. Campbell was good on two shots, but Buie fought for a quick two to put the ‘Cats down four with 23.3 left.
Berry fouled Singleton with with 20.3 ticks, but the guard went down in pain and left the floor with assistance. Andrews came in and made both free throws. The Bruins led 66-60.
Buie split two defenders but missed a layup, and Bruins fans could sense their victory. Northwestern ultimately fell 68-63 after three foul shots for Buie, falling in the Round of 32 — and ending possibly its best season in school history.