Swanson: UCLA men’s basketball is growing up before our eyes

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)

of

Expand

LOS ANGELES – Wanna sound smart?

The next time the man on the street starts talking about how much UCLA stinks this season, you can interject and let him know: Actually, friend, UCLA is young this year.

But do they stink? No, actually.

What’s more, they might be on their way to good. Probably so, in fact, if you consider Coach Mick Cronin’s track record, including the past four-plus seasons with the Bruins, who are 108-47 on his watch following Saturday’s suspense-free 65-50 victory over USC at the Galen Center.

Cronin has led UCLA to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past three seasons, including a Final Four appearance in 2021. In 2022 and ’23, his Bruins reached the Sweet 16.

But recently, all that felt like a lifetime ago. Cronin’s cast of newbies or near-newbies were hard to watch as they took their faulty, uncertain baby steps, falling before they could walk, and then falling again – running a distant dream.

After three victories over overmatched foes to start the season, these Bruins – with their seven true freshman, one redshirt freshman, three true sophomores and one redshirt sophomore – lost 10 of 13.

And those losses were rough, mostly bitterly close contests that included the ignominy of falling to Cal State Northridge at Pauley Pavilion, 76-72. And the stunning, 46-point butt-kicking at Utah, the second-largest deficit in Bruins history.

It all had Cronin bemoaning the kids’ lack of hoops IQ, critiquing their lack of confidence – and then gathering them ’round and reminding them that all that is … acceptable.

Yeah, seriously. Apparently, behind the scenes, the Bruins’ famously demanding coach, that live-wire, barbed-wire of a leader, he was nurturing these young men.

“Head coaching is like being a starting pitcher,” Cronin said before practice this week. “You’ve got to have multiple deliveries at different times of the game.”

So he took a little heat off, it seems. Spent time reassuring his players, encouraging them to block out the man on the street’s criticism — and their friends’ and families’ too. To keep at the task before them, as bleak as it all felt.

“You’ve got to get them to focus on the process and getting better and repeating, ‘If you do things the right way, results will follow,’” Cronin said. “But you’re not always gonna have the result you want, you know? And it’s a microcosm of our season. Devastating as it’s been to have every loss but one be by single digits, and to go through what we’ve gone through, it does build character. Not that I want these guys to have to go through it, but it does build character.”

The Bruins feel like they’re turning a corner now, having won three of four – their only loss in the stretch a 77-71 result on the road against No. 12 Arizona, where UCLA led by 19.

How can Cronin tell?

“When that scoreboard changes,” he said, before zooming back out, mindful of where in the process he and his players are.

“But in practice more so,” he said Saturday night. “We’re still young. Like, I feel like a fifth-grade teacher at times: ‘Everybody listen, hold hands so we’re all listening during the scouting report and the walk-through.’ It’s just life with inexperienced guys.”

Against USC, those inexperienced guys looked wiser, like their recent tribulations had prepared them well to ace their test against their cross-town rival.

They didn’t only hold onto the big lead (it helped that USC isn’t Arizona), but they played more freely than they have this season. They had more fun.

Related Articles

College Sports |


UCLA gymnastics harnesses the crowd energy of Pauley Pavilion to reach season-high score

College Sports |


UCLA continues fighting through the ‘tough parts’ in win over rival USC

College Sports |


UCLA men’s basketball is all smiles after running past USC in rivalry game

College Sports |


Charisma Osborne, No. 2 UCLA women pull away from Washington

College Sports |


Losing records won’t turn down fire for USC-UCLA rivalry game

And why not? They continue to come into their own as the aggressive defenders that are Cronin’s calling card: UCLA held the Trojans (8-12, 2-7 Pac-12) to 35.4% shooting, finished with 10 blocks and outrebounded their hosts 43-29 while holding them to their lowest scoring output all season.

The real breakthrough, though, was that the Bruins (9-11, 4-5) found a way to put the ball in the basket when they needed to, using a 22-4 run late in the first half to create sufficient separation. Dylan Andrews scored seven of his 20 points in that pivotal stretch and Will McClendon chipped in with a pair of 3-pointers.

UCLA finished with three players in double figures; Lazar Stefanovic (17 points) and Adem Bona (who had 10 points and 10 rebounds), and collectively the Bruins applied their defensive intensity to the offensive side of the floor. They scraped for loose balls to keep possessions alive and hammered the boards relentlessly, finishing with 15 offensive rebounds to USC’s seven and outsourcing their hosts 17-4 on second-chance points.

They put it together. They took that next step.

Just like Cronin has been telling them they could.

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *