PULLMAN, Wash. — Mick Cronin preaches defense every season for a reason.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 20 points, Adem Bona made the winning basket with 19 seconds left and No. 11 UCLA used a terrific defensive effort down the stretch to overcome a 12-point first-half deficit and beat Washington State, 67-66, on Friday night.
The Bruins (12-2 overall, 3-0 Pac-12) won their ninth straight thanks to stingy defense in the final 10 minutes when the Cougars (5-9, 0-3) went cold shooting and allowed UCLA the chance to rally.
“It means a lot. It just shows the toughness of this team and how far we’ve come,” Jaquez said. “We could have easily folded, but we didn’t. We decided to stick it out, play defense and work and do whatever we can to get back in this game.”
UCLA trailed 35-23 late in the first half and was down by nine with 7: 23 left when the Bruins locked down on the defensive end and found just enough offense.
UCLA led for only 1: 28.
“I preach it to these guys all the time, if you don’t defend, you’re not going to win,” Cronin said. “Winning with offense, you’re going to be a .500 team. So the guys showed a lot of grit and toughness.”
Jaquez scored 16 points in the second half and was 10 for 10 at the foul line. Tyger Campbell added 16 points and David Singleton had 14, hitting a jumper with 1: 43 left that pulled the Bruins within 64-63.
Former JSerra High standout DJ Rodman led Washington State with a season-high 19 points and had a good look at a winning 3-pointer in the final seconds, but it hit the rim and UCLA won on the Palouse for only the third time in its last eight trips.
“My eyes lit up because it’s that moment that you wish for, a game-winner,” Rodman said. “I mean, I’m not going to beat myself up too much on that because there’s a lot more that gets us to that place. We shouldn’t have been down one at that moment.”
Mouhamed Gueye hit free throws with 1: 14 left to give the Cougars a 66-63 lead. But Jaquez hit a pair from the foul line to pull the Bruins within one and after a Washington State turnover, Bona’s layup attempt was goaltended by Gueye and gave UCLA the lead. It was the Bruins’ first lead since 5-3.
Gueye finished with 18 points and 18 rebounds. The Cougars were trying to find their big center on the final possession but he was swarmed and Rodman’s jumper from the corner was the only look Washington State got.
“There are just plays there that you that you’ve fundamentally got to be able to make if you want to beat a good team,” Washington State coach Kyle Smith said. “And to their credit, they made the plays and we’ve got to keep fighting.”
Washington State scoring leader TJ Bamba was held to five points on 2-of-9 shooting. The Cougars missed 11 of their final 12 shots and didn’t have a field goal after Justin Powell’s 3-pointer with 7: 23 remaining.
UCLA: The Bruins played without starting guard Amari Bailey because of a sore foot. Bailey traveled with the team but did not suit up. Bona started in Bailey’s place and finished with seven points. … … UCLA outscored the Cougars 21-10 at the foul line and made 21 of 22 free-throw attempts.
Washington State: The Cougars have lost five of six and seven of nine in the month of December. Five of those losses have been by nine points or less.
UCLA plays at Washington on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Washington State hosts USC on Sunday at noon.