Before the season started, the question always was: “Who is going to score for this team?” This news roundup highlights both that and the fact that with this loss the UCLA Bruins’ tournament hopes are already dimmed as there are no good wins in non-conference action and one bad loss to Hofstra. The Orange County Register did not even bother to have a reporter cover the game, instead using the AP feed. Is the season already so over that the number 2 paper doesn’t even care to try? But the top paper, the LA Times, sent its UCLA guy, Ben Bolch, who wrote an excellent story, even if it is not a positive one for Bruins fans, entitled: UCLA loses in ugly fashion to Notre Dame.
UCLA barely had anybody who could reach double figures during an ugly 75-61 loss to Notre Dame at Purcell Pavilion that reinforced just how much work remains to be done under Cronin. . . .
The misses spread like an infectious disease on a day the Bruins (7-4) failed their first road test by making 34.9% of their shots and only 10 of 20 free throws.
Everything seemed amiss for a team that likes to play inside-out but was mostly upside-down against the Fighting Irish (8-3), who pushed their lead into double digits in the opening minute of the second half and eventually led by as many as 18.
The Bruins needed more than 12 minutes to notch 10 points in the first half. One possession featured three offensive rebounds, each one followed by a missed shot. UCLA was equally bad from midrange and around the basket, missing layup after layup.
Bolch gets it. UCLA’s offense is the issue. It is ugly and does not have an identity. After the game, Coach Cronin said:
Our offense got us beat. Can’t shoot 30 percent from the field, 50 from the foul line. We would have to play a high school team to win with those numbers. They shot 38 percent, but you can’t shoot 30 percent and win. And then you get to the foul line, we’re 7-for-16 in the second half, so what are you going to do? If they’re just going to keep jacking threes, it is what it is, but they shot 38 percent for the game. We kept them off the foul line.
The Daily Bruin’s Ryan Smith focuses on the season-long problem of defending the three:
The Fighting Irish controlled the contest from start to finish, doing most of its damage from beyond the arc. After the two teams combined for just 15 points in the first nine minutes of the game, Notre Dame caught fire from deep, knocking down six of its next 13 attempts from long range to take a seven-point lead into the break.
We had three or four possessions where it was like… who’s guarding the guy? And that’s our youth. Our inexperience comes out. Young teams, guy gets a little tired—and it’s not just one guy. As soon as one guy gets a little tired, he gets lost. We cover for him and while we’re covering for him, they find the open man, bang, three. Could be in halfcourt, could be in transition. There’s three or four possessions like that. Until we get battle-hardened, we’re just a young team. We’re a work in progress.
It was not all bad, UCLA again won the rebounding battle. Every game this season, UCLA has out rebounded its opponent. Coach Cronin mentioned this after game:
Well, that’s an effort stat. We can control effort. We try to do that. You’re always happy with that.
But the reality is UCLA lost to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish not because of defense or rebounding but offense. Before the season in my preview, I said the offense was going to determine if we were dancing in March. Saturday’s game answered that question in the negative. Coach Cronin posed the important question:
But up until this point, we’ve been able to score inside. You’ve watched us every game. Jalen (Hill) and Cody (Riley) shooting almost 60 percent, both of them, [and] today, they’re 3-for-16. It’s hard to win that way. Where are we going to get our points?
Where indeed. There are two games left before Pac-12 play starts to figure that out.