Gloomy skies rain in Westwood in loss to Arizona

As the rain cascaded down on Pauley Pavilion before tip-off last Thursday, it felt like more than just a weather pattern; it was as if the heavens were mirroring the state of the UCLA Bruins' basketball program. With four consecutive losses under their belts, the UCLA Bruins faced off against the No. 5 Arizona Wildcats, knowing it would be their final showdown in the Pac-12 against the Wildcats. But the outcome left fans and players feeling as gloomy as the stormy skies outside.

The final scoreboard told a dismal tale: a crushing 88-65 defeat at the hands of the Wildcats. And as the "U of A" chants echoed through Pauley Pavilion with each three-pointer, it only added to the despair lingering in the air.

This season, the Bruins have grappled with offensive struggles, languishing in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in points per game, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds per game, and assists.

The team cries out for a playmaker to spark the offense and create scoring opportunities. They're in dire need of sharpshooters, rebounders and a dash of everything in between. Even when opportunities arose against Arizona, UCLA failed to convert early opportunities into points. The Bruins couldn't muster shooting 40 percent from the field. The Bruins find themselves adrift when Dylan Andrews or Sebastian Mack aren't shouldering the offensive burden.

Head coach Mick Cronin drew parallels between sophomore center Adem Bona and former Cincinnati standout Kenyon Martin, who soared to the top of the NBA draft after a stellar collegiate career. But for all his potential, Bona has yet to unleash the offensive prowess reminiscent of Martin's game.

"He's got a lot to learn," Cronin said of Bona, "but he's got unbelievable attitude, explosion, but he's got to learn how to play smarter. We're trying to play through him on offense. He was never an offensive player until this year. It's a growth spurt for him, he's trying, I just don't have enough help for him right now."

As UCLA faces the specter of its fifth losing season in 75 years and the prospect of missing out on March Madness for the eighth time in a quarter-century, the weight of the situation is undeniable.

The Bruins' deficiency in sheer athleticism, which was glaringly apparent against the Wildcats, has been a recurring theme throughout the season. They lack the firepower needed to contend for a tournament berth, let alone a shot at the national title.

So, what's the remedy for their woes? Is salvation lurking in the transfer portal? Do they need to reel in top-tier recruits? "A lot of our freshmen have not developed well in the way that we hoped," Cronin said. "But we're definitely not happy with the development of some of the young guys. It's just obvious. When you get outclassed, it's obvious."

But beneath the surface lies another pressing concern: the scarcity of NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) opportunities flowing into the program, in an era where financial incentives reign supreme, UCLA's NIL prospects are woefully inadequate.

Cronin and athletic director Martin Jarmond must rally more booster support to entice top-tier talent to Westwood. With March Madness slipping from their grasp, the Bruins must seize the opportunity to rebuild and reignite their competitive fire. If not, it will continue to rain in Westwood.

Follow Eric on X @elambsquared and Instagram @elamb5quared.


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