LOS ANGELES — At least UCLA basketball coach Mick Cronin is consistent.
Following each mistake one of his players committed on Friday night, the head coach was quick to stare down his bench, seeking a replacement.
Constant subbing persisted throughout UCLA’s 68-50 victory over Lafayette (1-1), producing a game that lacked flow, one marred by unnecessary fouls and turnovers that kept the Leopards lurking.
That is, until UCLA broke away with an 18-0 run (part of a longer 30-4 stretch) highlighted by a stifling defensive effort that completely cut off the Leopards’ water for a 10-minute stretch in the second half, while sophomore guard Dylan Andrews’ 3-point shooting sparked the Bruins’ offense.
Andrews (7 for 9 from the field) and guard Sebastian Mack each had a team-high 18 points.
UCLA (2-0) seemingly approached Friday’s game as a platform for trial and error, and the gaffes laden throughout a game in which the Bruins didn’t lead until the 11:37 mark of the second half showed why.
Cronin was ruthless with his tinkering – screw up and a seat on the bench awaits – and nobody was safe from his experiment.
On the first two possessions, center Adem Bona attempted a wayward hook shot and committed an offensive foul, turning the ball over to Lafayette. Bona, who led the Bruins with 28 points in a victory over Saint Francis (Pa.) on Monday, was immediately swapped in favor of Brandon Williams just 71 seconds into the game. Then, after fouling the screener on the following possession, Williams made way for Ilane Fibleuil.
A pre-game change Cronin made was inserting sophomore guard Will McClendon into the starting lineup for Mack, a freshman, but McClendon’s timidness saw Mack reclaim his spot.
Mack started the second half, and his aggressive play was the antithesis of McClendon’s hesitance.
The Bruins shot 34.6% from the field in the first half, guard Lazar Stefanovic – who Cronin has harped on time and again to “be more aggressive,” as the Utah transfer put it when he spoke at preseason media day – remained deferential, shooting 1 for 7 from the field.
With 12 minutes remaining in the second half, he began to force the action.
Stefanovic hit a pull-up jumper, following it with a corner 3-pointer that trickled off every inch of the rim, and then facilitated a possession that found Andrews for a 3-pointer that put UCLA ahead by seven.
As Stefanovic’s confidence budded, the crowd noise increased and UCLA began to find its footing.
To Andrews’ credit, he shed his game-managing shell for a more alpha-like scoring role and scored the Bruins’ first six points.
As the offense heated up, the Bruins’ defense traded misguided fouls for disciplined closeouts and Lafayette went without a field goal for 11 minutes and 17 seconds.
The Bruins made just three of their first 17 field-goal attempts, shot 34.6% (9 for 26) in the first half and missed their first six second-half shots before hitting 13 of 19 (68%) to end the game.
Eric Sondberg led the Leopards with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting and Kyle Jenkins added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
UCLA hosts Long Island University on Wednesday at 7 p.m.