Amid a lengthy list of concerns that includes shaky ballhandling and three-point defense that can seem like a foreign concept, one worry might trump all others throughout UCLA’s first season under coach Mick Cronin.
Where are the points going to come from when the Bruins really need them?
“Right now we don’t have that one guy that can just get us 20,” Cronin said late Saturday afternoon.
UCLA barely had anybody who could reach double figures during an ugly 75-61 loss to Notre Dame at Purcell Pavilion that reinforced just how much work remains to be done under Cronin.
Bruins junior guard Chris Smith scored 10 points but needed 12 shots to get there, his inefficiency mirrored by some teammates and exceeded by others. Forwards Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, who entered the game making more than half of their shots, combined to make three of 16 attempts.
The misses spread like an infectious disease on a day the Bruins (7-4) failed their first road test by making 34.9% of their shots and only 10 of 20 free throws.
“Our offense got us beat,” Cronin said. “You can’t shoot 30% from the field and 50% from the foul line. We would have to play a high school team to win with those numbers.”
Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Prince Ali were the next closest Bruins to double figures with nine points apiece. Everything seemed amiss for a team that likes to play inside-out but was mostly upside-down against the Fighting Irish (8-3), who pushed their lead into double digits in the opening minute of the second half and eventually led by as many as 18.
The Bruins needed more than 12 minutes to notch 10 points in the first half. One possession featured three offensive rebounds, each one followed by a missed shot. UCLA was equally bad from midrange and around the basket, missing layup after layup.
Bricking shots may not have been the biggest problem.
“We were just stagnant at times, our guards not cutting, including me being the biggest culprit,” Smith said. “We weren’t moving, our bigs were three for 16 because we weren’t helping them and keeping the extra guards away from digging on them.”
Things weren’t much better on defense, the Bruins continually giving up open looks while being slow to close out on shooters, making the 50th meeting between the intersectional rivals one for the trash heap instead of the record books.
Notre Dame made 15 of 39 three-pointers, relying more on volume than efficiency, but it was an effective approach against a young team struggling with its rotations.
“We had some bad breakdowns,” Cronin said. “We had like three or four possessions where it’s like, who’s guarding the guy?”
Long after Notre Dame was on its way to the runaway victory, guard Prentiss Hubb rose for one final three-pointer on the way to a game-high 20 points. Dane Goodwin added 16 points off the bench for the Fighting Irish, who cooled off only slightly after tying a school record with 20 three-pointers this week against Detroit Mercy.
The first half ended with Notre Dame holding a 31-24 lead and served as useful fodder for those who rue the death of college basketball as quality entertainment.
The teams combined to make five of their first 26 shots, leaving it up to the saucy Notre Dame students to provide the fun. They serenaded Hill with chants of “How was China?” when he shot free throws, referring to his international shoplifting incident from two years ago, and got even shrewder in the second half.
When freshman forward Shareef O’Neal stepped to the free-throw line, the students chanted, “Who’s your daddy?” After O’Neal missed the first free throw, they switched the chant to “Shoots like daddy!” O’Neal missed the second as well in an unintentional ode to Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers legend, though Shareef did finish with a team-high 11 rebounds in 17 minutes.
The Bruins were short-handed even before the opening tip. They played without sophomore guard Jules Bernard, who injured his right shoulder in practice Friday and had his arm in a sling. He is considered day to day.
His team might take a while longer to recover from Saturday.