For this news roundup, let me lead with a story I both love and hate on UCLA’s 69-64 win over the Arizona Wildcats. LA Times columnist Dylan Hernandez writes UCLA coach Mick Cronin delivering unexpected with current roster:
There’s a new wizard in Westwood.
Blasphemy? Probably, especially on a campus where there is a bronze statue of John Wooden.
But what other way is there to convey the scale of the miracles Mick Cronin has performed in his first season as UCLA’s basketball coach?
Cronin will presumably have better teams in the future. But this season will always be special, as he did something few UCLA coaches before him have ever done: He has delivered the unexpected to a fan base that expects it all.
The gist of the story is correct and the 2020 UCLA Bruins basketball team is the feel good story of UCLA sports in recent years. However, the language is the typical clueless pap that I expect of East Coast writers whose idea of UCLA history is an ESPN “30 for 30” or a bitter Steve Lavin harangue.
No, Dylan, Coach Cronin is not Wooden. No, Dylan, the fan base does not expect any coach to be Wooden. Wooden is the greatest Coach of all time. UCLA is never going to win 10 Championships in 12 seasons again.
That said, UCLA fans have a reason to go to the games again and a reason to cheer. Sam Connon writes over at the Daily Bruin:
And when the final buzzer sounded, the Bruins ran over to the far baseline to celebrate with the student section that had filled up over an hour before the opening tip.
The players joined The Den in the bleachers and were swarmed by fans after they extended their season-best winning streak to seven games, claiming sole possession of first place in the Pac-12.
After the game, Chris Smith described the crowd:
It was great, man. To have such a crowd like we did today, it was great. We were feeding off of them. They were screaming, they were there the whole time for us, so it was only right that we went and celebrated with them. It was a great feeling for sure.
Of course, UCLA fans had an added bonus last night. The Pac-12’s whiniest coach lost his cool and got tossed.
Arizona coach Sean Miller was ejected with 12:28 to play in a one-point game after earning his second technical foul of the night, and his Wildcats struggled in the waning moments of their third consecutive loss.
The Arizona Daily Star has a bizarre article on Miller’s “conversations” with the refs.
Miller wasn’t available for comment after the game (though he could have been; there’s no rule saying he can’t), while associate head coach Jack Murphy fielded questions – about Miller’s ejection, about another game of poor late execution, about Josh Green’s absence and some things the Wildcats did well (yes, there were some of those). . . .
“I’ll say this: After being a head coach for seven years, I don’t know if any technical are on purpose, but they certainly come from a good place,” [Associate Head Coach] Murphy said. “I just think tonight coach was in was in a good place when it came to what he was discussing with the official.”
Huh? Ironically, the first technical was obviously a good call. Cody Riley had a clean block. The refs were able to confirm this when they reviewed the foul to see if it was flagrant.
Another LA Times reporter who has actually watched most, if not all, UCLA games this year, Ben Bolch focused on what the game meant.
The victory before a crowd of 11,567 clinched a bye in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament for the Bruins and gave them their first regular-season sweep of Arizona since the 2012-13 season, which was also the last time they won the conference’s regular-season title. They are in position to do it again after having been tied for last place in the standings as recently as Jan. 17.
Bolch also wrote about how UCLA toughed out this win:
Campbell and Smith combined to make only six of 26 shots but closed the game on a tear. With the Bruins trailing by four, Smith made a jump hook and swished a turnaround jumper to tie it at 62-62 with 1:21 left.
There’s a little more on Campbell’s night from Sam Connon:
Tyger Campbell missed his first 10 shots Saturday night.
But on his 11th and final attempt of the game, the redshirt freshman guard gave the Bruins the lead and the victory.
I want to share two reactions on this. The first is from Coach Cronin:
Yeah, I think he [Tyger Campbell] thinks I’m nuts, which he would be correct and I’ve been certified a while ago as crazy, but I’m yelling at him to attack the guy. Use his speed. Use his speed and I didn’t want a jumpshot. We had been in the bonus the last 10 minutes, the game was being officiated a certain way, you’ve got to attack. The last thing I want to do is another kick-out shot. Obviously, we weren’t lighting it up from the perimeter. We were getting everything going at the rim [and] getting to the free-throw line. You’ve also got a better chance to rebound it if you attack. But Tyger needs, like, a couple days off. God bless him. The guys extremely, extremely tired.
According to Cody Riley, Tyger’s last shot was even more impressive:
I was super excited for him. I was happy. Something happened with his hand or something. He was a little injured, so I was just so surprised.
So, let’s get this straight: an exhausted Tyger with a slightly hurt hand who had missed his first 10 shots makes the game winner. This team is miraculous and UCLA fans have a reason to believe and cheer.
Go Bruins! Beat SC!