Listening to UCLA coach Mick Cronin talk about his team after games, it’s often hard to tell whether the Bruins won or lost.
His team mostly took care of the ball against Denver on Sunday afternoon, Cronin acknowledged, but it was sloppy at times and needed to be more unselfish.
His players created turnovers but tended to break down defensively late in the shot clock.
His leading scorer, Cody Riley, displayed his ability to pile up points in a hurry but continued his bad habit of picking up fouls for retaliating against physical defenders.
Riley was among the biggest reasons the good outweighed the bad during the Bruins’ runaway 81-62 victory over the Pioneers at Pauley Pavilion that gave UCLA a second consecutive blowout of an overmatched opponent.
Riley scored eight of his career-high 21 points over the first 3½ minutes of the second half, using an array of moves that included a spinning layup, short turnaround jumper and two-handed putback dunk.
“He’ll score if you don’t go at him, if you give him space and time,” Cronin said of the redshirt sophomore forward who made nine of 13 shots and added 11 rebounds before fouling out with four minutes left in the game. “He’s got to lose the jump shot at times and he’s got to learn to play smarter with his fouling.”
Cronin said Riley tended to get called for what he described as “the second hit” while posting up, reacting to a defender who initiated the contact.
“When a guy gets physical,” Cronin said, “he sheds the guy and then the call is on him.”
Cronin also was miffed about senior guard Prince Ali reaching in to foul a rebounder in frustration after missing a layup midway through the second half.
“I know the game was over, but it’s just stuff that we’ve got to stop doing,” Cronin said. “Somebody’s got to lead the way [and say], ‘OK, I’m not going to do anything stupid.’ It’s going to cost us a game — it probably already did.”
Cronin was referring to the technical foul on Riley that sparked Hofstra’s comeback victory over the Bruins last month. UCLA forward Jalen Hill picked up his own technical early in the first half Sunday after complaining about a call on him for fouling Denver’s Ade Murkey on a floating jumper, leading to a five-point play for the Pioneers.
“It was a quick ‘T’ on him,” Cronin said. “[But] he’s got to respond better. You got to grow up.”
Murkey finished with 18 points for the Pioneers (4-6), who made only one of nine three-pointers in the second half after keeping things relatively close by making six of 10 from beyond the arc in the first half. Cronin said Denver’s early success from long range was mostly a result of beating the Bruins in the middle of the court and finding open shooters.
There were some indisputable positives for the Bruins (7-3). They tied a season low with only nine turnovers while forcing 17. Freshman guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 16 points as part of his continued emergence and Ali added 11 for UCLA, which made 47.5% of its shots but only 22.7% of its three-pointers.
Riley also tallied nearly a point a minute, his scoring outburst coming in just 22 minutes.
“They found me when I had my man sealed and found me in the right spots,” Riley said, “got me going early and it was good for our team.”
Predictably, Cronin, who only half-jokingly said he would like about two months of practice before his team’s next game, pinpointed something Riley could have done better during a breakthrough performance.
“He was tremendous for a long stretch,” Cronin said. “It would have been nice if I could have played him more if he wouldn’t have fouled out and see how many points he could have gotten.”