The UCLA Bruins showed defensive effort, hustling and toughness in a 69-65 win over the Long Beach State 49ers last night. But they also showed they lost their top three scorers on offense. Ben Bolch wrote over at the LA Times:
The Bruins exhibited flashes of Cronin’s trademark tenacious defense but appeared completely adrift on offense before finally saving their coach from an inglorious introduction to the home fans by making the necessary plays at the end of a 69-65 victory over Long Beach State that was every bit as ugly as the score indicated.
While the defense helped secure the victory, the offense was mostly out of sync from tipoff until the final buzzer. UCLA shot just 39.6% from the field and 5-of-19 from beyond the 3-point line, starting 2-of-15 from deep before hitting three of its final four attempts.
The Bruins lost their top-three scorers from last season – Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands and Moses Brown – to the NBA in the offseason, and Cronin said his players will have to step up and score collectively given that the team doesn’t have a go-to option on offense.
After the game, Cronin addressed the loss of Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, and Moses Brown. He said:
The three guys that took the most shots by far on this team are gone, so it’s just going to take us time to find a rhythm, offensively, as we get young guys comfortable.
Regardless of whether you call it ugly, out of sync or lacking rhythm, the offense struggled. That said, there was improvement during the game and in the second half. Robert Morales writes over at the Orange County Register:
The Bruins made only five of their 19 3-point attempts (26.3 percent) and shot 39.6 percent overall, but they outrebounded Long Beach by nine and committed only four turnovers in the second half after having 10 in the first. . . .
Free throws were a key. Long Beach recovered from a 1-for-8 start to finish 8 for 16, while UCLA made 22 of 31.
While the offense was ugly, it was there when the Bruins needed it, keyed by the defense. Bolch writes:
UCLA finished the game on a 15-7 run that included some feistiness in the closing seconds when guard Chris Smith blocked a shot and forward Jalen Hill forced a jump ball that went back to the Bruins. Cronin said he saw value in winning a game in which his team struggled against an opponent that played five different defenses.
Despite the problems, this looked like a Cronin team. Smith said:
Last thing Coach said before we went out before tipoff was be the first team on the floor. That just goes a long way. Defense is always something we can control, and playing harder than the other team is always something we can control. We try to do both of those every night.
If you can be in a dogfight and win, you get a lot more out of it than if you’re blowing some team out that can’t play basketball with you at home. Give them a lot of credit, though, especially Chance Hunter hit some really hard shots. We’ve got a lot of growth as a team to do. We’re still trying to figure out who to play and with who. Trying to figure out roles on this team and not turn the ball over… we had 42 (points) in the second half because we only had four turnovers. You can’t rebound a turnover. You’re not going to get fouled off a turnover. If we don’t turn the ball over, we’ve got a chance to be a decent offensive team.