Players were milling about on the court with a little more than five minutes left in the game, UCLA’s David Singleton having just missed a three-pointer that might have been a knockout blow amid the Bruins’ big run.
Teammate Chris Smith walked over to Singleton and patted him on the chest, telling him to shoot the next time he got the ball.
He certainly did, without any hesitation.
Singleton buried a deep three on the Bruins’ next possession, eliciting a smile from Smith and extending UCLA’s advantage to seven during an eventual 67-57 victory over Washington on Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion.
Smith has become not only the go-to-guy but the leader. After the game, Smith said:
And the defensive aspect of the game took a little time for us to figure out what (Coach) Cronin was preaching, but now, as you can see, everybody’s buying in to everything (Coach) Cronin’s preaching—especially on the defensive end, because that’s what got us back in this game and the seven games we won out of the last nine. It was all defense. . . . I was always telling the guys we’re going to take it one game at a time because I’ve been here for two rough seasons. You’ve just got to take it a game at a time and never stop working. We never stopped working. We haven’t stopped working and things are working now.
The second half, we kind of got out of control and they (UCLA) ratcheted up the defense, we didn’t really shoot the ball well, but them ratcheting up the defense was a key in the second half.
Washington shot 28% in the second half. But not only did the defense shut down Washington’s offense, it also generated offense for UCLA. Hopkins discussed this, too:
Well, we had 18 turnovers and 11 of those were in the first half and those were costly. They (UCLA) also scored 25 points off of those turnovers.
While Smith and Singleton were the focuses of the stories again, Jared Tay of the Daily Bruins points out Cody Riley was again a stud down the stretch:
Riley – whose offense provided the clinching run in UCLA’s overtime win over Washington State on Thursday – closed the first half with four points, but in the second scored 11 points on 3-of-3 shooting.
“We all believe in each other,” Smith said. “No matter what the score is or what situation we’re in, we understand that guys can make big plays. We got guys that can make big plays all over the court, on the defensive end and offensive end.”
UCLA is now officially a hot team. Maggie Vanoni writes in the Orange County Registrar:
“When we were struggling, I was trying to keep these guys together, just keep them fighting,” UCLA head coach Mick Cronin said. “Young guys worry about the last play, veterans worry about the next play. Once we changed that, that’s where we changed our fate.”
UCLA has now won seven of its last nine games and extends its win streak to three straight games — its longest streak since opening the season with four straight wins in November.
Additionally, the win also marks the Bruins’ first regular-season sweep over Washington (12-14, 2-11) since the 2016-2017 season.
If you saw this happening after the Cal State Fullerton loss, you are lying. Thanks, Coach Cronin.