Adem Bona sprawled on the field, using every inch of his massive wingspan to chase down a loose ball. His immediate grimace and grip on his left shoulder while he remained down caused an entire fan base to flinch.
UCLA couldn’t absorb another serious injury.
Already down their best defenseman, the Bruins lost another starter early in the second half Friday night at T-Mobile Arena when Bona went down for an extended stretch before getting up and walking slowly to the locker room.
The absence of Bona, along with Jaylen Clark, who was out with a lower leg injury, briefly left UCLA with a lineup no one could have imagined in the second half of its Pac-12 Tournament semifinal against Oregon.
Starting point guard Tyger Campbell was on the field with reserves Abramo Canka, Dylan Andrews, Will McClendon and Kenneth Nwuba. Does not matter. For a few breathless minutes, Campbell was all his team needed.
Campbell took over with a series of moves, causing the decibel level inside the arena to rise with each one.
There was a long jumper he knocked in from the top of the key.
A crossover dribble followed by a jumper.
Another jumper that forced the Ducks to call a timeout as Oregon coach Dana Altman grimaced in disgust.
For perhaps the first time all season, Campbell was in the full “Steph mode” coach Mick Cronin had long prescribed. Campbell’s hot streak led the second-ranked and top-seeded Bruins to a 75-56 runaway 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 in the second half. “It was amazing.”
Bona returned to the bench to cheer his team to its 12th straight victory, smiling and celebrating as the Bruins closed the game on 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 dressing 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 barrage of points that came largely from pick-and-and-drop midrange jumpers -roll situations.
“I was really just trying to make something happen,” said Campbell, who before the season had been asked to become more of a high-volume shooter a la the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry. “I believe in myself as a player and every shot I take I feel like it’s going to go in and they just went in today.”
Guard Will Richardson scored 10 points for the Ducks (19-14), who may have lost their last chance to secure an NCAA Tournament bid.
Oregon couldn’t sustain the 22-13 rebounding edge it built in the first half and outscored the Bruins by just one after halftime, even with Bona sitting out the final 16 minutes.
“They’re bigger than us at every position,” Cronin said. “But it’s not how big you are. It’s how tough you are.”
Nwuba epitomized the way his team came together, making two huge blocks to spark the late surge after Bona departed. The backup center surprised even himself after spending the last month dealing with hip soreness. He said he is now about 95% recovered.
“Getting the two blocks today made me feel very awake,” Nwuba said, “like, oh yeah, I’m back, I can go get it.”
UCLA was literally cursing itself at halftime, with backup center Mac Etienne cursing on his way off the court after missing a gimme at the rim in the final second of the first half on a nice pass from Campbell in transition.
The Bruins’ 32-30 lead at the time came thanks to tight defense and a nice burst off the bench from Andrews.
The freshman guard followed a floater with a jumper before throwing a perfect lob to Bona for a monstrous dunk.
It was just another step-up performance from a player who had stayed mostly in the shadows.
“They practice hard, we prepare them for a reason, we try to tell them their moment is coming,” Cronin said.
“We tell them all year, ‘Your moment is coming in March and we’re going to need you.’ “
Depending on Bona’s shoulder, they might need even more Saturday.