Thursday night was the best win of the season for UCLA Bruins head coach Coach Cronin. Yes, winning at Washington is tougher but the way they won last night was all on Coach Cronin. It is rare that I disagree with Dimitri but I thought the 62-58 win at Gill Coliseum over the Oregon State Beavers was a thing of beauty.
UCLA overcame the SPTR. For any new readers, “SPTR” is an abbreviation used on Bruins Nation that describes the quality of the Pac-12 refs. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they are biased against UCLA per se, but I think being the home team in the Pac-12 is worth a lot.
I agree a 100% with ArmyBruin in his criticism of the refs. Chris Smith was robbed on at least three of his foul calls. And in the first half, the box score looked like this:
· Chris Smith: two fouls in seven minutes
· Jalen Hill: two fouls in five minutes
· Tyger Campbell: two fouls in eleven minutes
I honestly thought we were going to be blown out when this happen. Our best offensive player, our best defensive player and the only true point were limited in the number of minutes they played. Yet, we were winning 27-24 at half. Why? Coach Cronin explained it in the post game (emphasis added):
We’ve got to execute, defensively, which we did a pretty good job of other than letting [Tres] Tinkle get to his left hand way too many times. The rest of our defense was really elite tonight.
I agree with everything Cronin said except I think he is being too hard. Tres Tinkle is an elite college basketball player. He is going to score. He went 4 for 14 with zero threes. If it wasn’t for the help of the SPTRs giving him nine free throws he would not have made double figures.
But, back to the first half, Tres Tinkle was 0-5 in 19 minutes. So, arguably the Pac-12’s best offensive player was completely shut down by UCLA’s bench.
I have been one of those critical of Cronin’s substitution patterns. I still don’t understand them. That said, the Bruins held a good Oregon State to 31.6% shooting with:
· Cody Riley playing 13 minutes
· Jules Bernard playing 11 minutes
· Jake Kyman playing 13 minutes
And the reality was that the bench defense was even better than that as three of Oregon State’s four first half threes came early from Zach Reichle with the starters playing.
UCLA’s team defense was phenomenal.
Keep in mind, not only was this a road game, but this was the game after Shareef O’Neal left. Some coaches, including some good ones, may have lost a Cody Riley or Jules Bernard mentally. By that, I mean they could say, “I’m benched. We suck. And I am going to play my game. What can the coach do? He can’t lose another guy.”
That didn’t happen. They played elite team defense. They played Cronin basketball.
Now, I get Dimitri saying the offense was ugly but. looking at this team before the season, it was obvious this team was going to have trouble scoring. Cronin also came up with a long-term solution there, Daishen Nix. How good is Nix? Nix was just named to the McDonald’s All-Star Game and is the number one point guard in the nation. I can think of no better way of fixing the offense.
The elite first half team defense that shut down Tinkle was essential to giving us a chance to win. Cronin’s game management at the end was the key to actually winning.
First there was Smith. Chris had nine points in second half and took advantage of a tired Oregon State defense to drive to the hoop over and over and get fouled. UCLA pressed Oregon State throughout, not to get steals or force turnovers, but to wear down an Oregon State team that lacks depth.
I was trying to get certain matchups, late game, trying to put the ball in certain guys’ hands. I thought he was fresh because of his foul trouble. He played only 17 minutes, so he was the fresh guy. He stepped up, got the ball to the paint and made sure he got to the foul line. They were being real aggressive and instead of taking fallaways or runners, he got in there and planted his feet and got in there and won it again for his team.
Second, there was the “clutchness” of Hill. If Smith is not the star on the team, the other candidate is Hill. He stepped up and, despite not scoring all game, made four free throws.
Cronin lastly sealed the win. UCLA lost to Washington State when they hit a game tying three-pointer at the end of regulation. Cronin was not letting that happen again:
Tyger Campbell fouled Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson with 6.6 seconds left, preventing him from getting off a 3-pointer that could have tied the game.
Thompson made both free throws cutting the lead to one.
Hill went back to the line at the 5.4-second mark and came through again with two free throws.
Thompson made one of two free throws with 3.1 seconds remaining, and UCLA’s Jules Bernard converted two free throws for UCLA to seal the win.
A couple of more thoughts on where this Cronin UCLA team is at right now:
- In the last two games, they have given up an AVERAGE of 54 points
- But for an overtime loss on a mental mistake, UCLA would be 3-0 on the road in the Pac-12. That would be good any season let along a rebuilding season for an offensively challenged team.
Thanks, Coach Cronin. I realize tomorrow’s game against Oregon will be a heavy lift, but this has been a great season on the road in the Pac-12 so far.