Bruins end losing streak face the Arizona schools this week

The 2023-2024 season has been challenging for the UCLA Bruin's men's basketball team and head coach Mick Cronin. After three consecutive Sweet 16 post season appearances, which included a Final Four appearance in 2021, the Bruins have struggled to find themselves with a roster full of freshmen and sophomores, and not a lot of college basketball playing experience.

Last Sunday at Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins seemed to find themselves, defeating the Washington Huskies, 73-61 to end a four-game losing streak. The Bruins had lost eight of their last nine games, with the most recent loss to Utah on the road, 90-44. The 46-point loss to the Utes was the second worst loss in Bruins men's basketball history.

On Wednesday Night in Tempe, UCLA won their second consecutive game, coming from behind to defeat Arizona State 68-66. On Saturday they face the only ranked team in the Pac-12, the Arizona Wildcats at 1 p.m. in Tucson. The No. 12 Wildcats are currently 13-4 and Arizona State dropped to 10-7. After the Bruins victory on Wednesday, they are now 8-10 overall and 3-4 in the Pac-12.

Against the Huskies, the Bruins took an 8-7 lead on a basket by center Adem Bona with 12:44 remaining in the first half and never looked back, building the lead to 17 points in the second half.

"We got control of the game in the first half," Cronin said. "It was the first time all season we had 22 deflections at halftime. Young group. We're fighting through it. Lot of close ones this year. That's my fault because we're too inexperienced, but we're just going to stay the course. We just got to keep staying course. Obviously, today we won the game, but it doesn't change the fact that we're grossly inexperienced."

This game was won with defense and terrific ball movement that led to 20 assists in the game for UCLA, which was one less than they had in the previous three games combined. Guard Dylan Andrews led the Bruins with eight assists. The Bruins shot 50% from the floor and made 42.9% of their three-point field goal attempts. The UCLA defense led to a 26-11 advantage in points off of turnovers and to a 17-6 advantage in fast break points.

The Bruins were finally getting some easy baskets, getting the ball inside to Bona, who led the Bruins with 22 points on 10 of 13 shooting, which included five dunks. Bona only had one rebound and zero blocked shots in the game, but guard Lazar Stefanovic helped out with a team-leading seven rebounds and a terrific blocked shot on what seemed like an easy breakaway layup.

Stefanovic added 15 points and was hopeful that this game would be the game that leads to a Bruins winning streak. "We're hoping so," Stefanovic said. "That's what we want, that's what we need. After the loss to Utah, we had 15 games, now it's 14. Let's try to win every single one of them one by one. What's happened has happened, we can't do anything about that, we can't change that. But we can change our attitude and effort, as we've done before, in the next games. Play better, play together, have 20 assists and we're in a good spot then."

Cronin rotated players in and out throughout the game, with ten players seeing action and contributing. It is easy to see the talent and potential of the group, but it is just going to take time for them to learn to play together and learn to adjust to college basketball. Cronin talked after the game about the contributions from the bench and how his players need to learn and grow.

"Jan [Vide] is somebody that has a world of talent," Cronin said. "He's figuring out college basketball still. I got to get him off his one-foot runners. He gets in the lane at will. I got to get him to be a better passer to the 3-point line. But that's the same as Sebastian Mack. Two freshmen that when they're juniors will be really, really good players."

Cronin added, "I've been doing this a long time. I've had those kinds of guys. So, Jan helped us a lot. Ilane [Fibleuil] had a big steal. He's our best athlete. Again, he came to us just really raw. He's really raw and he don't turn 19 until June. Both those kids don't turn 19 until the summer. They need work. You can't hit the fast forward button, so you just keep working with them."

The Bruins need to bring the same energy on defense and ball movement on offense to avoid another Utah type of meltdown in the next two games. As Stefanovic said after the game, "What happened the other night is something that no one wants to see happen ever again."

 

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