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UCLA Basketball News Roundup: Ten Perfect Minutes and Some Bench Motivation

UCLA delivered ten minutes of defensive perfection for a coach who wants to see it for 40.

Southern Utah v UCLA
Southern Utah could not find a way to score for 10 minutes
Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

For those who say defense is boring, please re-watch the first ten minutes of last night’s 76-61 win by the UCLA Bruins over the Southern Utah Thunderbirds. The Daily Bruin’s Sam Connon details the defense:

The Bruin defense continues to hit benchmarks and win games.

UCLA men’s basketball (4-0) never trailed in its 76-61 victory over Southern Utah (2-2) on Monday. The Bruins took their first double-digit lead of the night with 13 minutes 55 seconds to play in the first half and they never looked back, notching season highs in blocks and steals in the process.

Monday marks the first time since February 2015 that UCLA has held its opponent to fewer than 70 points in four straight games, and the 241 total points allowed by the Bruins are the fewest in their first four games of a season since 2010.

The Thunderbirds scored just six points in the first 13-plus minutes of the game, making it the Bruins’ most efficient defensive stretch under first-year coach Mick Cronin.

It was actually the first ten minutes, but you can forgive the Daily Bruin reporter for being over enthusiastic. Chris Smith said:

As we showed in the first 10 minutes, defense is definitely our strong point. When we’re locked in helping each other and talking to each other, we make teams look like they can’t score. Six points in 10 minutes – that’s unheard of.

Coach Cronin was happy with the defense in the first ten minutes but the rest of the game, not so much.

I guess, they just told me on the radio, we started the game 25-6. So, I was happy with that. After that, I wasn’t happy with much. We still got a lot of work to do. . . .

Ben Bolch takes a different approach to reporting on the game. How is Coach Cronin is going to motivate players to be locked in the whole game? Bolch writes in an article entitled “UCLA responds to Mick Cronin’s quick hooks against Southern Utah:

Jules Bernard made his way to the scorer’s table and checked into the game early in the first half.

The UCLA guard lost his dribble on his first possession, committing a turnover, and was yanked, unsure that coach Mick Cronin really was taking him out only 33 seconds after putting him in until assistant Darren Savino yelled confirmation from the bench.

There was a similar scene later in the first half when Bruins forward Jalen Hill, not exactly known for his long-range marksmanship, hoisted a jumper that missed badly. Cronin gestured madly with both arms and looked down his be Bernard returned and swished a three-pointer and Hill came back to throw down a monstrous dunk on the way to finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. . . .

Bernard returned and swished a three-pointer and Hill came back to throw down a monstrous dunk on the way to finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

This is a deep team without stars and with a coach who demands players play hard and smart. Welcome to the pbench being a motivator. Last night, the most famous of those bench players scored his first points:

In the second half, Shareef O’Neal made a 3-pointer from the right wing for the first points of his UCLA career. O’Neal, the son of Shaquille O’Neal, had missed the two previous games due to a hip injury and sat out last season because of open-heart surgery last December.

The Orange County Register’s James H. Williams focuses on Chris Smith in his article. While Smith had another career high with a “quiet” 20 points, the real story remains the defense at the start.

UCLA built a 17-3 lead behind an impressive defense and Southern Utah went 8½ minutes without a field goal during that stretch. The Bruins extended that lead to 25-6, but Cronin revealed after the game that he was not happy with his team’s overall performance.

UCLA finished with 11 steals, 10 blocked shots and 42 deflections, but much of that came from the early portion of the game. Cronin was pleased with the Bruins’ early defense, but he was disappointed with the following 30 minutes of the game.

It was great defense, but UCLA needs to play like that for 40 minutes. Cronin gets the last word.

What’d they have, six points? For us, I’m a big believer in if we pick a way we’re going to defend a team, we’re pretty gameplan specific and we followed the gameplan early in the game from a defensive standpoint. Once we got a big lead, our mind wasn’t on defense anymore. We weren’t locked in defensively and we’ve got to grow up to where we can be locked in for extended periods of time if we’re going to be a good team.

It's great to have a coach who believes in defense and effort. It is nice to see and, for the first ten minutes last night, it was fun to watch.