Adem Bona, Lazar Stefanovic lead UCLA basketball past USC

Adem Bona (3) of the UCLA Bruins looses the ball against the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Jan Vide (27) of the UCLA Bruins goes up for the rebound against Joshua Morgan (24) of the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Brandon Williams (5) of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Kijani Wright (33) of the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans reacts towards Dylan Andrews (2) of the UCLA Bruins after a blocked hot in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Dylan Andrews (2) of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Devin Williams (22) of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Vincent Iwuchukwu (3) of the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Brandon Williams (5) of the UCLA Bruins looses the ball against the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

DJ Rodman (10) of the USC Trojans rebounds against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Adem Bona (3) of the UCLA Bruins reacts against the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Dylan Andrews (2) of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Dylan Andrews (2) of the UCLA Bruins shoots against the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans reacts against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Dylan Andrews (2) of the UCLA Bruins passes to teammate Brandon Williams (5) of the UCLA Bruins against the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Head coach Andy Enfield of the USC Trojans reacts against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans along with teammates Vincent Iwuchukwu (3) of the USC Trojans and Joshua Morgan (24) of the USC Trojans after a turnover against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Joshua Morgan (24) of the USC Trojans rebounds over Brandon Williams (5) of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Adem Bona (3) of the UCLA Bruins shot against Vincent Iwuchukwu (3) of the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans scrambles for the ball against Devin Williams (22) of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Dylan Andrews (2) of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Head coach Mick Cronin of the UCLA Bruins reacts against the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Adem Bona (3) of the UCLA Bruins blocks the shot by Boogie Ellis (5) of the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Dylan Andrews (2) of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket past Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans scrambles for the ball against Devin Williams (22) of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Vincent Iwuchukwu (3) of the USC Trojans wins the tip off against Adem Bona (3) of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans scrambles for the ball against Devin Williams (22) of the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Sebastian Mack (12) of the UCLA Bruins reacts with teammate Aday Mara (15) of the UCLA Bruins after recovering a loose ball against the USC Trojans in the first half of a Men’s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Boogie Ellis (5) of the USC Trojans during a time out against the UCLA Bruins in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Adem Bona (3) of the UCLA Bruins blocks the shot by Boogie Ellis (5) of the USC Trojans in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

USC Trojans football coach Lincoln Riley in the first half of a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game between the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans warms up prior to a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game between the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans warms up prior to a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game between the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans warms up prior to a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game between the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans warms up prior to a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game between the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans warms up prior to a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game between the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans warms up prior to a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game between the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Bronny James (6) of the USC Trojans warms up prior to a Menxe2x80x99s NCAA basketball game between the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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LOS ANGELES — Perhaps it sounded a bit like a fist-shaking, get-off-my-lawn diatribe, but Mick Cronin is Mick Cronin, and that certainly will never change.

On Thursday, in the midst of a disappointing year with a group of youngsters and new pieces that simply couldn’t seem to fit together, UCLA’s coach Cronin took a brief break from basketball-talk to wax poetic about the current state of the world. More specifically, the current state of Gen-Z. He spoke about a buddy who’d done a study within his company that revealed employees were giving 25% of what they were being paid for. The “helicopter parent” didn’t exist anymore, Cronin asserted — these were the days of the “lawnmower parent,” who’d simply graze over any adversity.

Of course, this wasn’t really a break from basketball talk.

“Are you willing to fight through the tough parts? Everybody wants to skip those,” Cronin said Thursday. “But again, it’s character-building.”

There’s been a slew of tough parts around UCLA this year, more than Cronin’s been used to in any year helming the Bruins. They lost by 46 points to Utah. Their offense has rarely found any flow. Cronin chucked his jacket in a loss to Cal. And for 15 minutes on Saturday, in front of a USC crowd still packed full despite this being the worst edition of the cross-town rivalry in two decades, a team of young kids and struggling vets slumped again for 15 minutes.

And then, miraculously, kids grew up before the eyes of thousands, Cronin barking and directing traffic as if he were Napoleon reincarnated. UCLA went on a run to close the first half and then kept USC firmly in the rearview mirror in a 65-50 win Saturday, simply because they fought, crashing the glass with every ounce of effort they had and creating extra possessions. It was a visible defibrillator to UCLA’s season, snapping a five-game winning streak for USC over UCLA at Galen — and extended a five-game losing streak for the Trojans, dropping them firmly to the bottom of the Pac-12.

Lazar Stefanovic snared five offensive rebounds, scrapping, coming alive in the second half to drop 17 points. Dylan Andres stepped up as a shot-maker, scoring 20 on 7-of-15 shooting. And Adem Bona was a whirling dervish of a double-double, dropping in an and-one layup as the Trojans tried to chip away into a second-half lead, slapping his bicep and waggling his tongue and visibly sucking the life out of Galen.

USC came from the tip with a surge of adrenaline, buoyed by a rattling Galen Center in pre-game introductions, for their Mick-Cronin-professed Bruin Killer had returned. And after a three-game absence, Boogie Ellis came out firing on Saturday, hitting two deep threes within the first few minutes and and roaring to his home crowd.

“Basket gets real big when he sees the four letters playing against him,” Cronin said of Ellis on Thursday.

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And the basket, correspondingly, shrunk in the early going for UCLA. Enfield, in a brief stroke of genius, went with a true two-big lineup for the first time all season, starting 7-foot-1 Vincent Iwuchukwu and stalwart big Joshua Morgan in the frontcourt. Their length and a pesky zone alignment completely stifled the Bruins, UCLA starting the night shooting just 4-of-17 from the floor. And a rotating array of tree-trunk limbs from the trees in the Trojans’ paint knocked away layups like leaves in the wind. Everyone from Morgan to Kobe Johnson to Bronny James got a block in the first half, James staring and barking at the Bruins’ after Dylan Andrews after erasing an attempt and earning himself a technical.

“They are young, so they’re liable to make some mistakes … they’re not going to have as much experience, or as much leadership as some other teams,” Morgan said on Thursday.

And then USC, completely and thoroughly, fell apart on their home floor.

It started with a burst of energy from little-used freshman Devin Williams, who inserted and immediately contributed a layup and a second-chance putback for four quick points. It ended in a 22-4 run to close the half, the jolt from Williams and fellow benchwarmer Aday Mara suddenly punching USC on their heels, momentum completely shifting. The floor opened, Lazar Stefanovic and Will McClendon and Andrews all draining triples, the Trojans’ feet suddenly lead on the perimeter after 15 minutes of chasing the ball like rabid squirrels. And coach Andy Enfield rubbed the back of his neck in frustration as USC trudged off the floor at halftime, down 11 in a game that had suddenly slipped from their palms.

For months, in a season largely beset by injuries, USC’s simply been out of sync for stretches defensively. It’s frustrated players. It’s frustrated coaches, particularly Enfield. And their lead was undone by a simple inability to match physicality or rotate, giving up a major advantage on the boards and in the paint that extended into a second half in which they’d never catch their rivals in blue.

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