Jules Bernard couldn’t recall exactly how many traveling violations and bad passes and offensive fouls and other ways UCLA had lost the ball in the first half Saturday when his coach offered some assistance.
“It was 14,” Mick Cronin interjected while seated next to the sophomore shooting guard inside T-Mobile Arena.
“Fourteen,” Bernard repeated.
The number is one that Cronin isn’t likely to forget after the slew of turnovers sunk the Bruins into a hole from which they could not fully escape during a 74-64 loss to North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic.
UCLA nearly came all the way back from the resulting 13-point halftime deficit thanks to some aggressive backcourt traps, shaving its deficit to one point, before succumbing to more turnovers.
The Bruins’ carelessness stirred the Tar Heels’ slumbering offense and negated the spirited rally sparked by the defensive pressure.
“The problem is once we stop scoring,” said Cronin, whose Bruins (7-5) finished with a season-high 22 turnovers on the way to their second consecutive defeat. “You can’t press if you don’t score.”
UCLA redshirt sophomore forwards Jalen Hill and Cody Riley endured their second consecutive quiet game with four points each while struggling to counter the Tar Heels’ double and triple teams. The Bruins also missed almost every shot from long range, making only four of 21 three-pointers (19%).
UCLA’s frustration deepened with 93 seconds left when a foul initially called on North Carolina (7-5) was overturned and went against Hill, leading to a technical foul on the UCLA bench over its displeasure.
“North Carolina guy turns and elbows Jalen in the mouth and it’s a foul on Jalen,” groused Cronin, who also noted that it was a tale of two halves in officiating, with the teams combining for 13 fouls in the first half and 32 in the second.
The Bruins were having a lot more fun early in the second half when their backcourt pressure forced turnovers that led to a 12-0 surge.
“It’s almost like forced therapy to try to get guys to play hard,” Cronin said of the jolt provided by the press.
UCLA was within 36-35 when freshman guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. went to the free-throw line with a chance to put his team ahead but missed both shots.
Then came another flurry of UCLA turnovers as the Bruins reverted to their sloppy ways from the first half. Tyger Campbell, David Singleton and Chris Smith each committed a turnover to help North Carolina score the next four points.
The Tar Heels eventually extended their advantage, with guard Anthony Harris’ three-pointers on consecutive possessions giving his team a 57-45 lead with a little less than six minutes to play. Harris finished with 14 points and forward Armando Bacot added 15 for North Carolina, which snapped its four-game losing streak despite playing a third consecutive game without freshman sensation Cole Anthony.
Bernard was productive in his return from the shoulder injury that had forced him to miss the game against Notre Dame last weekend, scoring a team-high 16 points in 18 minutes while mostly avoiding his habit of reckless play.
“Coach has told me that I have to utilize my strengths, being under control, being a strong guard that I am,” said Bernard, who had three turnovers. “So if I’m out of control, that takes a way my strengths.”
Jaquez finished with 14 points and Smith had 12, but their scoring was largely offset by Smith’s six turnovers and Jaquez’s five that all came in the first half.
UCLA found nearly every conceivable way to cough up the ball on the way to its 36-23 halftime deficit. There was a ball that went off a body, a ball that was poked away, a step taken out of bounds, an offensive foul, a ball that was stripped while dribbling, multiple traveling violations and two passes that were fumbled away because one player was not ready to receive the ball. And that’s just a partial list.
“We weren’t very under control when we got the ball,” Jaquez said. “We had some travel calls, some just losing the ball, just some fumbling, some silly errors that we had. I think just slowing down was probably the biggest thing that we could have done to stop those turnovers.”
Bernard said the backcourt press was something the Bruins could use to their advantage the rest of the season given it was disruptive against a team that had worked on its press offense in practice the previous day.
That is, of course, if UCLA can keep from giving the ball away itself.
“The turnovers,” Cronin said, “give us absolutely no chance.”