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March Madness: No. 2 UCLA storms past No. 15 UNC Asheville in first round matchup, 86-53

The UCLA Bruins stormed past UNC Asheville in their first round matchup of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on Thursday, earning a spot in the Round of 32 as they seek their first National Title since 1995. 

Even with crucial pieces in Adem Bona and Jaylen Clark missing the game due to injury, the Bruins got support from every facet of their roster as they advanced past the first round of play for the third year in a row. 

The Bruins jumped to a 23-point lead early and never looked back, cruising to a 86-53 victory over the Bulldogs on the back of a nearly 55% shooting performance. 

An all-around onslaught, led by stellar shooting from the field and a staunch defense, saw UCLA lead the game in nearly every statistical category heading into halftime, holding a lopsided 46-25 lead, which came thanks in large part to 59% shooting and 12 forced turnovers.

"We lost our last game, these guys took it personal. You saw how they came out tonight," Cronin said after the game. "Our defensive intensity and our deflections early in the game, I think, really rattled them. They could never get comfortable."

UCLA continued to dominate in the second half, cruising to a 70-41 lead with just under 9 minutes remaining in regulation as they continued to overpower UNC Asheville in the paint. 

Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Amari Bailey both notched 17 points a piece, with two of the three other Bruins starters earning double-digit scoring figures as well. Jaquez added 8 rebounds and a career-high 5 steals, earning him a spot on a prolific list of UCLA players. 

Head Coach Mick Cronin made a move to get the starters off the floor for the remainder of the game with a 30-point lead with about five minutes left in the contest.

The Bruins out-rebounded UNC Asheville 40 to 25, including 14 offensive rebounds.

The Bulldogs were led in scoring by forward Drew Pember, who had 13 points on the night. Tajion Jones and Alex Caldwell added 11 a piece.

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