This was, in all honesty, a very frustrating game to watch in person for 30 minutes. The UCLA Bruins are very clearly a team that is going through some growing pains to start the season; some guys are adjusting to new expanded roles (Dylan Andrews, Adem Bona) while others are adjusting to playing college basketball in general. The end result is a team that can go through stretches of absolutely wretched play but has talent to put away lesser opponents when they need to.
That’s really what happened here. UCLA looked terrible for much of this game, especially on defense where they were much too slow and reactive, ultimately allowing a bevy of three-pointers from the Lafayette Leopards. One of the big issues appeared to be the two-big lineups, which the Leopards seemed all too eager to exploit on the outside with their host of shooters. But in the second half, Mick Cronin found a lineup that seemed to work extremely well, inserting Ilane Fibleuil in at the four alongside Bona, Andrews, Sebastian Mack, and Lazar Stefanovic, and the results defensively were extremely good. From the 15:21 mark of the second half, when Justin Vander Baan hit two free throws to extend the Lafayette lead to nine, the Bruin defense finally locked in. The Leopards would only score seven points for the rest of the game, with the Bruins rattling off a 17-0 run at one point that swung the game from an upset to one where UCLA almost pulled off a backdoor cover. In the preseason, Fibleuil drew comparisons to Jaylen Clark as a defensive stopper, and his length and skill on that end seemingly fixed a lot of the problems UCLA was facing, especially on corner threes. Fibleuil played 24 minutes, which also feels like a really good sign for how he will be used this year.
The other two players that had great games were Dylan Andrews and Sebastian Mack. Andrews really seems to be putting together things offensively, hitting a number of threes and showing confidence in pulling up for midrange jumpers similar to what Johnny Juzang would do in the past. Sebastian Mack, meanwhile, really looks like he’s going to be a Mick Cronin favorite for years. Mack simply does not stop playing, and he plays with a reckless abandon that you have to know Cronin loves (though I’m convinced he’ll end up injured at some point this year, but I digress). Both guards tied for the team lead with 18 points apiece, with Andrews going 7-9 from the field while Mack did most of his damage at the free throw line, where he went 9-12.
I think my biggest takeaway, and something I’m interested in seeing going into next week’s game, is how this team continues to grow. Aday Mara and Jan Vide both looked better in their second games, but there’s still a ways to go for them to acclimate to this level of play, while Adem Bona still seems to be working on being such an offensive focal point (this game really felt like him pressing too much instead of letting the game come naturally). I’m sure some people watched Arizona knock off Duke earlier and then watched this game with disgust, but honestly, I’m more interested in how they develop, because if there is anything I’ve learned about Cronin teams, it’s that they get really good right when they need to.
That’s pretty much the game that I saw, Dmitri. As far as Arizona, they have a habit of dominating November.
Take heart, Dimitri and Bruin fans, one of my very most adored teams aside from Coach's skien of NCAA titles and Jim Harrick's cherry on the top of the cake, was the 1979-1980 season where Larry Brown's Bruins stumbled out of the blocks with the losses being to Notre Dame and DePaul (back to back) and a 12-6 PAC-10 season. The two losses in December occasioned the far too gleeful SI article entitled "The Bruins are in Ruins" back when the anal retentive SI writers* and East Coast basketball was intensely jealous of UCLA's success in the 60s and 70s.
But coach Brown gathered the troops and ended up in the title game, revenging themselves by upsetting #1 DePaul and defeating #10 Ohio State (Goodbye, Columbus!) along the way. They came within a whisper of winning title #11 but lost to Denny Crum's L'ville Cardinals (their first title). The joy of seeing that team fight back made them one of my favorites
They ended up within a whisper (actually, a semi-audible belch) of the 11th title versus Louisville. Tied at 56-56 with 2:54 to go in the game, they fell apart (versus a well-coached team) giving L'ville and Denny Crum its first title. Sadly, a predatory NCAA did their Roland Freisler imitation and whomped the Bruins with a two year penalty, vacating their 1980 NCAA post-game record in the process.
I am very optimistic -- if not for this year, for the future. Unlike Kelly, Cronin ain't sleepwalking though his gig.
*My uncle Coles was a senior editor and writer at SI. Got a lot of inside gossip from him.
To the Bruin Fam on the thread last night, I actually fell asleep 🤣 (long story) and I missed the comeback! But I will watch the second half on the highlight reel.
I think the hype of Lottery pick surrounding Mara was premature - the game he played in Spain was vastly different or at a different level than here, especially on the defensive front. He will need to get stronger and play within himself. On a bright note, we may have him for more than one year.
It is reassuring to know that the guard positions look really strong and will get better over time. Andrews and Mack sound like a great combo to me, and they both have the same legendary hair, shadowing only Tyger (Tyger's hair will always be the greatest legend imho).
Well... on another note, I guess we have a football game today. If we win, I will be happy for the players. If we lose, it will be one more notch in the hole that will end Chip's sideline presence.
Go Bruins! 💙💛
I wanted to comment sooner since I was at the game last night. But John Lennon said it well with his iconic lyrics ( the name of the song eludes me ) - " Life is what happens when you are busy with other plans. " We were amicably chatting among ourselves, getting caught up with how each other has been doing when I received a text message. My long time colleague has succumbed to a brain ailment. Suddenly, my mind went blank. I knew we were playing sloppy, disorganized game but we didn't care. This is mid November. Things will shape up once the season starts. All we wanted was to have a good time despite all that background and a mediocre game unfolding before us. The news blind sided me.
Half time could not come fast enough for me to leave my seat to find a relatively quiet area - if there is actually one inside Pauley - and call her family. I will process all that shock and pain myself except to say that for as long as I have followed UCLA hoops since my high school days in Wisconsin, subpar preseason games never concerned me except the last couple of years under Steve Alford. What you saw was what you would get once the season got underway. In fact, they would even get progressively worse.
Didn't it take Cronin quite a while to mold the team we saw the last couple of years ? We will be fine. Just let them play, make their mistakes and learn. When the game ended, and as we filed past the broadcasting table, we saw one of the two broadcasters. His face looked familiar to me. It was not Bill Walton but possibly another high profile former player. My buddy beat me to it. Hey, is our team going to be fine, he asked. This broadcaster smiled, nodded and raised up his thumb.