If you got up Wednesday night to watch the Bruin game against San Diego State, you were offered a trip to the wayback machine. Head coach Mick Cronin must have been beside himself as he watched his charges exert themselves and show a level of toughness that was the same as it was in November 2019. The Aztecs won when they were 15. It was actually worse than that. Outside the first 12 minutes of the game, SDSU dominated the Bruins in all facets of the game. Actually that’s not true. What happened was that the Bruins were withered on both ends of the floor. It was bad enough that I told myself I wouldn’t read a post-game review before writing my preview for the next UCLA game, just to see if my impressions of the game in San Diego State were the same as they were those of Tracy Pierson and / or David Woods’. Let’s see if that’s the case. . .
Certainly the Bruins were understaffed against the Aztecs without Johnny Juzang and Jalen Hill, but while that may explain a loss to a seemingly good SDSU team, it was the way the Bruins lost it, and it is so unsettling.
UCLA came out of the gates and could score against the Aztecs at will. The Bruins went off the ground 8-11 to open the game and actually looked good doing it. On the other end, the Bruin Defense looked like it was ready to pick up exactly where it left off last year. But it was fool’s gold. After this opening stretch, in which the Bruins were at the top several times up to 6 times, the wheels came loose and the Bruins were to blame alone. As far as I could tell, the state of San Diego only made two defensive adjustments. The first was to stop trying to overwhelm the fast lanes (think of Cody Riley’s first basket in which he turned away from his defender who had played the ball) while the second was to stay at home and to block all knives coming into the paint. And this disorder wasn’t particularly physical. Maybe that’s so scary. Those two things seemed to be driving UCLA’s offensive into a downward spiral that it never really got away from at any other point in the game. On the offensive, the Aztecs seem to be almost slowing down a little, just waiting for UCLA’s help to fall apart before finding a wide-open teammate, either on the Weakside block for a lay-up or on the perimeter for an undisputed three -Pointer.
It was pretty breathtaking. I didn’t think the Bruins would stop, but they were scared of the limits. The offensive stagnated and the defense lacked any toughness (too many undisputed drives) and no real cohesion (many missed help pages). .
Now the Bruins have to turn around at lunchtime on Friday and play against Pepperdine, a team that can beat UCLA very well (Noon PT, Pac-12 Networks). . Former UCLA assistant coach and Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar’s Waves started the season on Wednesday with a convincing 14-point win over UC Irvine.
Romar is essentially doing a seven-player rotation. Of course, he’ll play more than seven players, but seven will get most of the minutes. Regardless of whether Hill plays for the Bruins, UCLA will actually be smaller on the grid than the Waves, which start three players over 6’8 » in the forecourt. The best of the three is the junior Kessler Edwards (6’8 ”, 215 lbs. ), who scored 20 points against the anteaters. He also had 7 rebounds and was 6-12 off the ground, including 2-3 behind the arch.
The other two strikers are very low block body types for older Kene Chukwuka (6’9 ”, 225 lbs). ) and Junior Victor Ohia Obioha (6’9 ”, 220 lbs. ). Chukwuka, a Pitt transfer, plays more on the field on offense, taking 7 three points against Irvine, while Ohia Obioha is an offensive option only. He had 8 points on Wednesday, along with 6 boards. Chukwuka had two blocks, while the two together made life difficult for the Irvine mail players in the color.
The two start guards may very well be a headache for UCLA based on what we saw on Wednesday. Senior Colbey Ross (6’1 ”, 185 lbs. ) will be playing professionally next year, while his pal, Junior Jade Smith (6’4 ”, 185 lbs. ) is talented enough to burn UCLA’s defenses if they’re as lazy as they were on Wednesday. Ross had an « out » game, only scoring 13 points, but pulling down 6 boards and handing out 8 assists. Smith also scored 13, and he had 7 rebounds. These two are going to be a tough match for the UCLA guards as they may be better than any two guards the San Diego state had on the pitch Wednesday night.
The two main bench players are second striker Jan Zidik (6’9 « , 240 lbs. ), who is the son of former Bruin and National Champion Jiri « George » Zidik of the 1995 UCLA team and his colleague Sedrick Altman (6’2 « , 180 lbs. ) is. ). Both scored a good goal on Wednesday. Zidik scored 12 points in 17 minutes and Altman scored 8 in 24 minutes. Zidik’s line was a bit misleading when he was 4-12 off the ground trying to show a long range shot his father didn’t, while Altman is very important because he can and will play any guard position.
Many Bruin fans reckoned that Romar’s Washington teams would almost beat themselves if UCLA played the Huskies. The offensive was easy and the defense was more athletic than a team concept, but that was not the case obviously on Wednesday. The waves only flipped the ball 10 times while forcing 11, and they kept the anteaters 39% off the ground while hitting themselves 50%. The waves also outperformed UCI by 6. It was a pretty similar game to the UCLA game that Pepperdine could have scored in the second half.
Virtually everyone at UCLA had a bad game on Wednesday, including Cronin. Point guard Tyger Campbell looked a little slow and definitely undecided, so Cronin called him to the bench multiple times to train quickly. Jules Bernard was invisible on the offensive, almost as if he had been told not to look to shoot. Jaime Jaquez was particularly disappointing because of his poor help in defending the entire game. While he scored 17 points, he may have been directly responsible for scoring more than 20 points. Cody Riley needed help in the lowly post, help Kenneth Nwuba couldn’t give. In fact, after Nwuba’s first few minutes, Cronin seemed to prefer a small constellation with newcomer Jaylen Clark as part of a small ball session than a constellation with Nwuba.
The loss of Juzang and Hill was definitely a factor, but it shouldn’t have been enough for the Bruins to lay the proverbial egg. Removing Juzang for a moment simply because he wasn’t on the squad last season, was losing Hill that important? When the Bruins played in the state of Arizona last season and were put on the run, they did so without Hill. Perhaps his energy is a bigger factor in the team’s game than previously thought. However, the absence of these two players shouldn’t be an excuse for the Bruins to play without focus and effort, and that was the case for much of Wednesday’s game. If there is one thing a player can control is their effort, and giving less than their maximum effort is inexcusable.
Then there is Chris Smith. I thought he started well, but after catching his second foul, he seemed to sulk for the rest of the game. It definitely didn’t help the Bruins when both Smith and Riley were drawn 2 fouls in the first half. After looking really bad for a few possessions without those two on the floor (and without Campbell, either), Cronin reinstated both Riley and Smith, but by then the damage was fixed and it only got worse.
Cronin’s fault is the fact that he’s the head coach. Sure, he stated earlier this week that he was concerned that the Bruins were « intoxicating, » but it is his job to make sure that doesn’t happen. Also, it’s his job to make sure the Bruins at least play hard. In all fairness I expected the players to get halfway through the « hair dryer » treatment from Cronin and to play with new purpose and energy in the second half, but San Diego State scored the first 6 points of the second half very well good fast and the game was done.
What was really annoying from a tactical point of view, besides the poor rotation of aid, was that UCLA still didn’t seem to understand how to defend the three-point line. There were numerous cases during the first half where when the screens were turned on, UCLA left an Aztec player wide open behind the arch and those players got the Bruins to play. As Cronin got used to his players battling through screens, they were still going to be lost, especially Campbell, who was off balance defensively all night.
To be honest, just as a fan, I hope Hill can even play a few minutes because UCLA needs him. He’s maybe the most valuable player on the team right now. Even with him, the Pepperdine game will be difficult, and without him the Waves may just have too much, especially up front, for the Bruins to win.
Now, the Bruins could actually wake up and play like last February rather than last November, and players like David Singleton and Jake Kyman, clearly spotted by the Aztecs, could fire their shots to the rhythm, but we can only follow go with what we’ve seen so far.
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UCLA Bruins Men’s Basketball, San Diego State University, University of California, Los Angeles, Brian Dutcher, Pacific-12 Conference, Mick Cronin
World News – USA – Preview: UCLA v. Pepperdine
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