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UCLA Basketball News Roundup: UCLA Wins, But Don’t Tell Coach Cronin

UCLA won by 19 last night but Cronin is sick of bad perimeter defense and stupid fouls

Long Beach State v UCLA
Coach Cronin wants smarter players and better defense
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The UCLA Bruins beat the Denver Pioneers yesterday, 81-62. However, listening to Coach Cronin, it is kind of hard to tell we won. Ben Bolch writes over at the LA Times:

Listening to UCLA coach Mick Cronin talk about his team after games, it’s often hard to tell whether the Bruins won or lost....

His leading scorer, Cody Riley, displayed his ability to pile up points in a hurry but continued his bad habit of picking up fouls for retaliating against physical defenders.

Here is the quote on Riley from Coach Cronin in the post-game press conference:

He can score if you don’t double him. I sent three guys at him a year ago when I was coaching against him. He’s going to score if you don’t go at him, and give him space and time. He’s got to lose the jumpshot at times and he’s got to learn to play smart with his fouls. He’s a physical guy and he’s a victim of the second hit. We’ve got to grow up, we’ve got to mature. We’re a young team and we struggle at times. But [Cody] was tremendous for a long stretch. Would be nice if I could play him more if he wouldn’t have fouled out, see how many points he could have got.

Translation: The good is he can score consistently if you don’t double him. The bad is that he commits stupid fouls and retaliates.

This was on Coach Cronin’s mind because of a Jalen Hill play that led to a five-point play and turned a 11-0 start into a one-point game for most of the first half. Maggie Vanoni reports over at the Daily News:

Yet, the first half of the Bruins’ game against Denver showed one of its most sluggish performances on defense as Bruins repeatedly left Pioneers open on the wings and fell into sloppy fouls. . . .

However, Jalen Hill received three fouls on top of a technical in the first four minutes of the game and was pulled out as the trip to the free-throw line gave Denver (4-6) its first points of the game. Hill was later brought back into the game four minutes into the second half and ended the game with four fouls. He was one of four Bruins to receive three or more fouls.

The Pioneers quickly found the holes of the Bruins’ defense and took advantage outside the three-point arch. At halftime, Denver scored 18 of its 32 points from three-pointers and got within one point of the Bruins twice throughout the first period. Meanwhile, UCLA went into halftime with a 43-32 lead and just 3-of-13 from down deep.

UCLA struggled to respond to Denver’s offense in the first half and went on a near six-minute span without scoring a field goal.

Stupid fouls and bad reactions were on Coach Cronin’s mind. Hill’s technical foul was reminiscent of a similar play by Cody Riley in the Hofstra game, which cost UCLA the game. Hofstra was a bad loss. Bolch writes:

“I know the game was over, but it’s just stuff that we’ve got to stop doing,” Cronin said. “Somebody’s got to lead the way [and say], ‘OK, I’m not going to do anything stupid.’ It’s going to cost us a game — it probably already did.”

Cronin was referring to the technical foul on Riley that sparked Hofstra’s comeback victory over the Bruins last month. UCLA forward Jalen Hill picked up his own technical early in the first half Sunday after complaining about a call on him for fouling Denver’s Ade Murkey on a floating jumper, leading to a five-point play for the Pioneers.

Besides stupid fouls, the other problem for UCLA was perimeter defense. The Daily Bruin’s Ryan Smith writes:

Coach Mick Cronin said that while UCLA’s inability to play effective on-ball defense leading to open perimeter shots didn’t end up costing the team a win, he knows that his players will have to do better in that area moving forward.

“You got to contain the dribble this day and age, the way the game is playing, because that kick-out-3, guys at all levels – high school kids, this day and age – that’s an easy shot to make,” Cronin said. “It starts with guarding the ball.”

Three players spoke after the game: Cody Riley, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jules Bernard. Many may not realize but Bernard had a nice game playing mostly under control. Bernard gets the last word on Coach Cronin and the Bruins performance last night:

I think when we went into halftime, we knew that we were not playing to our potential on defense and it’s more of a pride thing. We have pride, we have a defensive-minded coach and we have a lot of defensively-talented players. We weren’t playing to our capability and so, in the second half, we really upped the intensity. Just making them shoot harder threes.

That will be a key going forward.

Go Bruins!! Beat Notre Dame!!