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UCLA Addicted to Collapsing, Loses to Oregon State in Pac-12 Tournament 83-79
The Bruins have played their way onto the bubble, with an NCAA Tournament bid suddenly in doubt.
Remember those halycon days of two weeks ago, when the UCLA Bruins were in first place in the Pac-12 conference and fans were complaining that the Bruins weren’t getting respect from bracketologists?
Those days seem blissful after yet another UCLA collapse, this time in the Pac-12 Tournament against the Oregon State Beavers. UCLA was up 16 points in the first half, 10 points at halftime, and looked poised to cruise the rest of the way. And maybe that was the problem, as the Bruins never seemed to get its act together in the second half, letting the Beavers claw back into the game and eventually win in overtime by the final score of 83-79.
There is a lot of blame to go around here, with a lot of stand-out moments in that second half that seemed emblematic of a team that seemingly lacks winners at the moment. I think of Tyger Campbell laying on the ground after missing a layup attempt, being late to get back on defense and allowing Oregon State to hit an uncontested corner three. I think of Jules Bernard again missing a late-game free throw that would have given UCLA the lead with three seconds left in regulation, and following that up with an overtime performance that acted as a microcosm of his night by being strong early but a nightmare late. I think of Johnny Juzang going from an excellent first-half performance to being unplayable in the second half. I think of a UCLA team that STILL can’t inbound the ball in late-game situations to save their lives.
I think about the refereeing in this game, which was a stand-out of misery even by the typical standards of the conference. The thing is that it was bad for everyone in this game; UCLA was not helped by the poor officiating but neither was Oregon State, as both teams were forced to battle through some miserable calls. At the end, it was Oregon State that was able to overcome that particular adversity, including having their best player and team leader foul out in overtime and getting other players to step up.
I think about how Mick Cronin, who has done an admirable job getting this team to still play winning basketball despite losing two major pieces in Chris Smith and Jalen Hill, has seemingly lost the plot to end this season. UCLA’s mentality in these late-game situations is, in a word, distressing, and a sign that the Bruins are playing extremely tight basketball. There’s no other way to explain how this team can go from calmly making free throws early in the game to looking like they’d rather be anywhere else late in games, or for Jules Bernard seemingly having no idea how to run a fast break with the game on the line. If we can give credit to Cronin for last year’s late-season charge to second in the conference, then he needs to shoulder a large portion of the blame for this late-season collapse.
Because here’s the scary thing about this loss: this one absolutely cannot be blamed on a talent disparity. In the past three games, you could point out that UCLA’s decimated roster left it with a talent gap to the other top teams in the conference, and that the eventual collapses could partly be explained by the more talented team making the right plays when it counted. That excuse does not work against Oregon State, which UCLA still out-talents. It put a bigger spotlight on coaching, and in this matchup Cronin found himself outcoached by his counterpart Wayne Tinkle. Tinkle got his team prepared for the second half of this game, and made all the right adjustments down the stretch, while Mick Cronin….largely did nothing.
In the post-game interviews, Cronin pointed out the lack of defensive intensity in the second half, but all that really does is cast Cronin’s flaws this season into further light. This is definitely something that I plan on expanding on this offseason, but UCLA was able to get by this season largely due to the Pac-12 conference being rather weak, and even then UCLA constantly played down to the level of their opponents. That’s a problem that the Bruins really need to fix next season.
And right there is the kicker: next season. I didn’t say “fix it in time for the NCAA Tournament next week” because that is suddenly in doubt. UCLA went into this Pac-12 Tournament needing a win to feel confident about their spot in the tournament, but an overtime Quad 3 loss, their fourth collapse in a row, suddenly casts their weak resume in a new light and means that the Bruins suddenly will have themselves a nervous Selection Sunday. Even considering all of the personnel losses this season, this collapse and the ramifications it could have on the postseason is still hard to fathom at this point.
Jules Bernard led the Bruins with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Tyger Campbell led the team with five assists. Warith Alatishe led the Beavers with 22 points.
Player of the Game: No one - Four collapses in a row, with the last one against a team you should still have a talent advantage over? Yeah, this is an easy call.
Area of Concern: Collapsing is now the order of the day - I don’t think I have any more words on this. If you have one collapse, it happens once. When you do it four straight times, it’s hard to say you have the mentality required to succeed against top competition. Talk about putting extra pressure on the incoming players next season.
Don Maclean Stop Talking Challenge - I don’t want to rehash the ref stuff I mentioned up there (tl;dr: it was bad!) but this collapse was made worse by having to listen to Maclean spouting off nonsense all game long. At least when Bill Walton does it, he isn’t trying to pass it off as genius basketball insight. The only good part of this UCLA loss is that I don’t have to hear Maclean call a game the rest of the year.
UCLA now must wait and see what their fate is on Selection Sunday. If they get picked for the NCAA Tournament, they’ll head to Indianapolis along with everyone else.