UCLA is not very good at the moment, but it was hard to see this team being this bad. After all, their previous four losses had come against teams ranked in the top 30 of KenPom, so you could at least rationalize it as learning games for an inexperienced team.
Cal State Northridge ranked 275.
Yeah, that’s a bad loss.
The Bruins were simply outhustled for large stretches of the game, and it meant that a furious second-half comeback would ultimately come up short as they lost to the Matadors 76-72.
There are a lot of questions Mick Cronin is going to need to answer after this one. For instance, what was the thought process behind starting Brandon Williams for the first time this season and giving him 23 incredibly ineffectual minutes? Williams simply provided a warm body, as he did not provide any scoring punch (0-6 from the field) or rebounding help (only four for the game). He was helpful on the defensive end, but that’s mostly because of poor roster construction leaving the Bruins without a true power forward, especially with Berke Buyuktuncel still out with an ankle injury.
But you can’t blame Williams for subpar play - he’s a true freshman that the program did not foresee playing major minutes this year. More distressing is the play of Lazar Stefanovic, the lone transfer in this season who is playing major minutes despite subpar offense and defense. A lot of the hype surrounding Stefanovic revolved around the idea that there were levels to his game that would be unlocked by moving him out of Utah; instead, his numbers have been similar to those the past few seasons, with only an increase in rebounding stats standing out. The difference is that in Utah, he was a bench piece who was meant to provide a spark, but here he is a critical rotation piece logging major minutes each game. The best version of UCLA likely requires moving Stefanovic to the bench, but the question is whether Mick Cronin will recognize that.
You could run down the rest of the lineup and find similar issues. Adem Bona ended the game with eight points and 10 rebounds but did not have a great game. Aday Mara, for all his conditioning faults (and one big defensive issue which we’ll get to in a minute), played much better but only managed 11 minutes. Kenneth Nwuba somehow managed six minutes despite starting with what I can only describe as an all-timer of a terrible shift to start this game where he committed an and-one foul, blew a layup, then committed a second and-one foul all in 30 seconds. The Bruins struggled to rebound the ball but Illane Fibleuil did not see the court until the final minute.
We finally saw the long-rumored zone defense from UCLA in this game, which is designed to protect Aday Mara and utilize his length. The result was Northridge scoring a series of easy baskets as UCLA could never rotate quickly enough to cover the block. There’s a reason most teams at the college level do not play a zone, and that’s because teams are too athletic and smart to not know how to attack the weak spots of a zone. So hopefully this is the last we see of this zone (this will not be the last we see of the zone).
The sad part is that we saw a wasted game from both Dylan Andrews and Sebastian Mack, who scored 22 and 27 points respectively on some highly efficient shooting from the field. Did they turn the ball over a bit too much? Perhaps, but you live with that when they produce the way they do offensively. The rest of the team simply let them down.
Throughout the night, I saw a lot of people make illusions to the Cal State Fullerton loss in Cronin’s first season. I don’t think this game is that far off from that one, which represented a low point for the Bruins before they ultimately came together for a strong close to the season. I don’t think that kind of performance is out of the question for this team either, but it will require a lot of players to make some sizeable jumps in ability and for Mick Cronin to figure some things out as far as his rotations are concerned.
But for right now, this is not very good.
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19 turnovers is way too much.
Reminiscent of our last coach. However I am inclined to cut him some slack, these inexplicable losses do happen when a team has a lot of inexperienced players...
All throughout this game, I was turning to my Bruin friends ands asking, what exactly is Stefanovic's role on this team, and why did we grab him from Utah... he is so far a detriment to the team, and never should see a starter's role again. Thought he was supposed to be a shooter, but he's convinced me I was wrong about that.
Not good to hear that bona was a non factor again. He was supposed to take a big leap but sounds like he has regressed a lot since earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year last year. Unless he is still recovering from the injury he suffered, or has to improve his conditioning?
I disagree that a zone is ineffective in college - there have been some successful zone teams, like Syracuse. Also many teams in college don't see zone often so it can cause confusion. But running a zone does need certain types of players which maybe we don't have.
OMG, seems like some Alford Apologists are re-emerging--they should go root for Nevada instead! With the wholesale loss of key players from last year's team, this is a major transitional season for Coach Cronin, the biggest challenge he's facing since his inaugural season at UCLA. That squad also couldn't get any big, non-conference wins, lost to both Hofstra and Fullerton at home, and were even forced to suit up in practice gear sans the 4 letters of their school until they earned it. The current squad may look pretty awful and disjointed right now, but I think it's still too early in the season to give up on them. Now if Alford were in charge, it would defnitely be a hopeless situation with zero chance of improvement. Sure wish the Bruins had an "offensive genius" on the their coaching staff, though. Go Bruins!
Ok, so I’ll try and make some pointed statements and I’d like to see what others think.
I actually think Cronin is an ok coach. I’ve never thought he is elite. He usually makes good in game adjustments, but far too often starts the first half poorly.
His offensive coaching style works with the right players but I don’t like it. He has always gone with an iso approach and let his players go one on one. This only works in a half court game with a very slow tempo. It also depends on a good forward like jaquez or juzang to be effective. This years last minute get was berke who has been out with an ankle injury and unable to get in game shape. He also isn’t college ready and his shot is lacking. Because of this, this ucla team will struggle on the offensive side of the court until that power forward appears.
This brand of basketball is not entertaining to me. It’s why I always harp on cronin because I don’t enjoy watching slow games with iso basketball. I like run and gun teams like UNC and Gonzaga to an extent. Doesn’t mean cronin can’t be a good coach, but this approach leads to a team that’s good every 3-4 years as you have to develop the right pieces. This year is lost as we don’t have a jaquez replacement, and unless berke stays and becomes that player, next year won’t be any better.
The right brand of basketball is important to today’s youth. Sex sells, and ucla isn’t sexy… unless you want to learn to play defense because that’s what cronin is marketing and selling. There’s just not that much interest in defense these days because it doesn’t get the crowd going. An oop, a fast break dunk, or fast passing to open threes is exciting and fans will cheer for it! They don’t get excited about a tipped ball in the same way that cronin does….
Which leads me to my last point… if sex sells, and ucla isn’t sexy, then we aren’t selling much to 5 star offensive talent. They’ll go elsewhere and bring their own nil money with them. Cronin has a hard time recruiting offensive players because his brand isn’t flashy (although his ego sure is). He hasn’t pulled in a top 10 recruiting class on his own has he? Sure, a top 20 recruiting class isn’t bad, but it’s also not impressive. Cronin is in his 4th year and had an entire roster to work with. His two best recruits didn’t commit until the end of the summer when they showed up on campus practically. As a long time fan, this is completely unacceptable to me. I expect ucla to be a top 10 recruiting program being the best place to play in LA! It no longer is as usc is consistently out recruiting ucla. It’s not even because usc are good or have a coach… they just sell sexy!
Cronin can’t change this, it’s in his dna. Just like Virginia… they sell a very similar brand of basketball and even won a championship. I just don’t like watching them play… just like I don’t enjoy ucla basketball anymore either
Again, this is a very young inexperienced team. This may be no excuse losing to a team at home that UCLA probably should have defeated by 20+ points, but this is what you get in rebuilding years. Results will vary. Still have faith that Cronin will build another winner; we all need to realize that we are taking a season off here. They will be much better next year. This was always the plan. Now if this were Dec, 2024, then I'd start circling the wagons.
A completely lackluster performance by our Bruins. Fundamentals! We missed 12 free-throws, too. We had more than a chance to win this game but couldn't get the moxie up to do it.
This is just not a good team. I still think Cronin is a great coach, but even if this team "gets better" I don't see us making much noise in March if we even get into the tournament. We just do not have a great roster. The international guys are some combo of overrated and slow to develop. Not really sure what the purpose of getting Stefanovic was. Andrews (at least this year) was always going to be a major step down from Campbell and we have no real natural replacement for Jaquez. Bona has loads of talent but is inconsistent offensively and is likely going to be in the G League before he puts it all together. It is what it is. Going to just root for this team and trust that Cronin is going to do a good job developing these guys for next year and supplement next year's roster with a good class and a great transfer or two.
I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think we're making the Tourney. I brought this up after the loss to Ohio State, but it's a whole lot more urgent now after that completely unacceptable loss.
We're 5-5 with 21 games remaining. The only ranked team on the schedule is Arizona, meaning both our strength of schedule is crap, and we have just 2 more chances to get a quality win - which we very likely won't. We need to go 15-5 in conference, plus beat Maryland, to get to 21 wins to even be on the bubble, but the absence of any good wins combined with a disgraceful home loss like this may be our ruin in March.
And if Cronin is missing the tourney in year 5 with all of his own recruits, that's a really really worrisome sign for this program.
And I don't accept the "we're young and need time to gel" excuse. Where are all of our seasoned and promising juniors and seniors who are familiar with Mick's system and are ready to step in and fill the spots left by last season's departures? There's a reason we are young and haven't gelled, and that's a really worrisome sign too.