Dimitri wrote an excellent post-game article last night, but let’s delve into the success and concerns from last night’s game. First and foremost, there was the continuing emergence of Chris Smith as the go-to scorer for the UCLA Bruins. After years of talk of tantalizing potential, Smith is becoming a true star. Ryan Smith writes in the Daily Bruin:
Smith poured in a career-high 30 points en route to the win, shooting 8-of-16 from the field and 13-of-15 from the free throw line. Coach Mick Cronin said he anticipated the Buffaloes making life difficult for his offense, but knew he would be able to rely on Smith’s size in isolation.
The guy with the biggest advantage is the guy that’s playing guard but he’s being defended because I play him at the four. Nobody wants to play there when you recruit. But I’m playing him four because he’s the guy who gets to go against their big guy all night. I’m a big mismatch guy. It’s not giving it away, teams saw me coach at Cincinnati trying to get the matchup we wanted in the attack. It’s hard to run plays and score against [Colorado] because they’re so well-schooled. Tried to get Chris the best matchup I could, he’s such a good free throw shooter – we’ve worked hard with him at drawing fouls and it really made a difference in this game.
While many are critical of UCLA’s often ugly offense, let’s give Cronin credit for developing Smith. Before the season, we knew offense was going to be a major issue and the question was who is going to step up. Cronin has developed Smith into a good scorer and a great free throw shooter. Thank you, Chris, for your hard work and thanks, Coach Cronin, for tapping into his talent.
And, now, something that is going to cause a little hullabaloo on Bruins Nation. Much like the Washington game, UCLA won in part because a surprising guy made some threes. In this case, it is the much maligned Prince Ali. Maggie Vanoni writes in the Daily News:
Cronin said he was pleased with Ali’s attitude in practice this week after being removed from the starting lineup last week and thought that made a difference in his performance against Colorado.
“We had a talk,” Cronin said after Ali made a trio of 3-pointers in the win. “Him and Alex (Olesinski) are great kids, but we need them to help us win some games. I was just really happy that he made those shots. Obviously, when the ball goes in it helps the coach’s blood pressure.”
This is a good sign of a coach keeping his team together. It has to be tough for Ali to watch his role go from “go to” shooter to starter to bench player. And, yes, he made mistakes, but those three-pointers were a key to the win last night. Ryan Smith wrote:
“Prince’s attitude in practice the last two days was great,” Cronin said. “So many young kids this day and age, when things aren’t going their way, play the victim instead of looking in the mirror.”
Ali – who shot 33.9% from long range last season – said Cronin’s confidence in him has not wavered, despite his 20% mark from deep this year.
“Coach Cronin, this whole week, he’s just been on me about just being ready to shoot and being confident in my stroke,” Ali said. “I knew coming in, if I had a clean look, I was going to let it go.”
Of course, all was not good, even in the win. Thuc Nhi Ngyuen writes over at the LA Times:
The Bruins reached for rebounds, wrestled for loose balls and jumped into passing lanes in a spirited first half. Their effort paid off: two shot-clock violations, five steals and 13 defensive rebounds to Colorado’s single offensive rebound. The half featured a 16-2 UCLA run, which included 14 consecutive points over more than five minutes.
But with an inexperienced UCLA team against a veteran Colorado squad, it seemed possible that the Bruins would collapse.
The implosion happened slowly. A travel. A fouled three-point shooter. A charge. Suddenly, UCLA’s 15-point lead was down to three and the Bruins had committed five turnovers in the first five minutes of the second half after just four in the entire first half.
But UCLA withered an ugly second half and held on for the win. Coach Cronin said:
It’s still a learning process, a lot of guys are still learning. We still make a lot of plays that are amazing to be honest with you. I have to remind myself, I just haven’t coached these guys that long. We still make some mistakes, some mind-blowing mistakes at times. But we did enough to win the game is the most important thing.
That sounds like a description of Prince Ali. That said, last night was a good win.