In an empty Pauley Pavilion, the Mick Cronin Era began with a somewhat expected whimper. The UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team, playing in their sole exhibition game of the season, looked mostly content exchanging bricked jumpers and off-path passes with the Division II Stanislaus State Warriors.
Then, whether it was the summertime rust finally wearing off or the sudden realization that they were playing a D2 team from Turlock, the Bruins officially awoke with about six minutes left in the first half, when Chris Smith slashed and spun for a smooth finish on a fast break on what would be a 16-2 UCLA run.
From there, the Bruins slowly separated from the Warriors with Tyger Campbell extending the Bruins’ lead to 16 on a buzzer-beating fadeaway before halftime. Although the on-court product was mostly sloppy to start, it was nice to see otherwise-shelved Bruins like Campbell and Shareef O’Neal finally play. Hopefully, Campbell, O’Neal, and Co. can manage to stay injury-free as sophomores.
In the second half, the Bruins maintained their lead without too much hassle, although their execution often lapsed. Butm in what was essentially a last tuneup before regular season play begins next Wednesday, expending A-level effort was not entirely necessary for Cronin’s crew, if only to avoid injuries.
Their exhibition errors aside, the Bruins still flashed their upside: Campbell looked comfortable creating for himself and others off the dribble; Smith and O’Neal stepped their way through a troupe of Warriors in transition; Jalen Hill dominated inside.
The only true hiccup tonight came midway through the second half, when Prince Ali landed awkwardly on a defender and rolled his ankle. Though he was able to walk to the Bruins’ locker room on his own, it remains to be seen whether his availability for the season’s start will be jeopardized.
As trash time ticked away, the Bruins ran away from the Warriors, eventually settling the score at 57-87. However lopsided the score though, it’s quite apparent that the Coach Cronin and the Bruins still have some gelling to do before their opening games against Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara.
But before then, we can just rejoice in the simple fact that UCLA Bruins basketball is back.