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Fed up after another UCLA loss, Mick Cronin delivers stern warning to his players

UCLA coach Mick Cronin shouts on the sideline during a game against Oregon State at Pauley Pavilion.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin shouts on the sideline during a game against Oregon State at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 1. Cronin had a lot to say about the future of his team after the Bruins’ 94-77 loss to Washington on Thursday night.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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Some intrigue has filtered into the final games of a season going nowhere.

After his team fell back to .500 with a third consecutive defeat, UCLA coach Mick Cronin could be heard yelling inside the team’s locker room at Alaska Airlines Arena late Thursday night.

“Coach was delivering a big message to us,” Bruins point guard Dylan Andrews said. “We don’t allow 90 points.”

UCLA’s defense was somehow worse than that, its 94-77 loss to Washington representing a season high for points allowed. More pointedly, it prompted Cronin to essentially tell his players that he would be holding de facto tryouts over the balance of the season to remain on the team.

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“I’m trying to figure out who I can build a program with — that’s what I told them,” Cronin said. “You can’t build a program with guys that won’t fight.”

UCLA coach Mick Cronin had to bounce back quickly from the Bruins’ loss to USC, shifting his focus to recruiting and the team’s next challenges.

Feb. 27, 2024

The Bruins provided little resistance while playing some of the worst defense of the Cronin era, allowing the Huskies to make an absurd 15 of 24 three-pointers (62.5%) on a night they made 15 of 30 shots (50%) from inside the arc.

“That wasn’t a Mick Cronin team out there tonight,” Cronin said. “We looked soft all night, so very, very frustrated.”

It didn’t help that perhaps the most Cronin-style player — freshman Brandon Williams, whom the coach called “our toughest guy” — was scoreless while battling a respiratory illness.

At least UCLA didn’t have to wait long to find out what kind of night this was going to be.

Sixteen seconds into the game, a whistle blew. Foul on Sebastian Mack.

Before the ball could be inbounded, another whistle. Foul on Brandon Williams.

Four seconds later, a third whistle. Foul on Lazar Stefanovic.

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In disbelief at what he was seeing, Cronin earned a technical foul for complaining about the cacophony of calls made by the same referee. The coach said afterward that he intended to file a report with the Pac-12 and the NCAA about the officiating.

“Nobody will probably care, but it needs to be done because what happened is utterly ridiculous,” Cronin said. “He made it personal when I asked about the first foul, he made it personal, and immediately called two fouls on us that were not fouls on us just to spite me.”

There were more oddities to come. The Bruins were blown out despite committing only four turnovers and shooting a respectable 44.6%. By the time the game mercifully ended, Cronin and his team had absorbed another gut punch.

The Bruins had never previously fallen to Washington under Cronin, making this result feel like more deflating than just another defeat in a lost season.

In a pitiful encore to its flat showing against rival USC, UCLA gave up one open three-pointer after another, the Huskies making eight of their first 10 shots from long range and 10 of 11 shots overall during one stretch late in the first half.

“Just wildly disappointed with our lack of toughness,” Cronin said. “When the other team’s making shots, for example, you’ve got to be able to go to the thermostat and turn the heat up defensively. Like, hey, man, they’re at home, they’re rolling, we’ve got to put a stop to this now and we didn’t have that in us.”

The defensive collapse dropped the Bruins (14-14 overall, 9-8 Pac-12) into fifth place in the conference standings. That’s significant because only the top four teams get a bye into the quarterfinal round, meaning UCLA is now on track to have to win an extra game as part of what was an already unlikely path to reaching the NCAA tournament.

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It seemed like UCLA could wave the white flag with 14 minutes 45 seconds left in the game after Washington’s Moses Wood made a three-pointer to push his team into a 17-point lead. Cronin called a timeout, but the only thing left to discuss was how quickly everyone could shower and board the team plane to Pullman.

Five days after they were essentially no-shows against USC, Stefanovic and Andrews combined for more than half of their team’s offense. Stefanovic scored a season-high 22 points and Andrews bounced back from his scoreless showing against the Trojans with 21 points, making nine of 15 shots, to go with 11 assists and zero turnovers. Center Adem Bona added one of the quietest double-doubles in the history of college basketball with 16 points and 11 rebounds. It meant little given the Bruins’ collective defense, or lack thereof.

“Just miscommunication on plays, leaving wide-open shooters,” Andrews said. “Those plays killed us and we allowed that to happen.”

Realizing he was as open as a 24-hour convenience store, Washington’s Keion Brooks Jr. kept shooting on the way to a game-high 32 points. Brooks made eight of 14 shots, including six of seven three-pointers, to help the Huskies (16-13, 8-10) snap their nine-game losing streak against the Bruins.

Mick Cronin knows ‘not everybody is Jaime Jaquez’ but the UCLA coach said everything he could after the Bruins’ loss to USC to try to motivate his players.

Feb. 25, 2024

In a final insult, Washington guard Sahvir Wheeler banked in a three-pointer at the end of the shot clock from about 40 feet out with less than a minute to play.

It was the kind of showing that left Cronin thinking about the future — as in next season. UCLA could have as few as four games left this season, including its opener in the Pac-12 tournament.

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The transfer portal opens March 18, and the Bruins could be active participants if Cronin doesn’t like what he sees in the next few weeks.

“All we talked about was, don’t look at the scoreboard — I don’t care about the scoreboard,” Cronin said of his message to his players. “That’s not how winners build programs; you care about things you can control — your effort, your attitude, your focus on the game plan and being tough and being physical.

“If the ball doesn’t go in, the ball doesn’t go in; nobody’s trying to miss shots, OK? But right now, you’ve got to be able to do hard things and you’ve got to get guys that want to do hard things and it’s kind of their nature.”

How many of those guys are already here? Stay tuned. They could reveal themselves soon or face the prospect of losing something more significant than a few more games.

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