UCLA is closed for winter break, but classes are still in session at Mo Ostin Basketball Center. Lesson No. 1 for a struggling UCLA team under a first-year coaching staff? Winning 101.
“I say winners know why they win,” coach Mick Cronin said, “and we’re learning.”
With a two-game losing streak entering their nonconference finale against Cal State Fullerton on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins have plenty left to learn, so much so that they practiced through Christmas night this week. They had practice Wednesday — no holiday festivities allowed due to possible NCAA restriction, Cronin said — and came in twice Thursday for film study and practice.
When a coaching staff is working with nine scholarship underclassmen, the film sessions are the most useful holiday present.
“We need to play a lot smarter at times,” Cronin said.
Sophomore guard Jules Bernard said he keyed in on the details such as defensive help assignments, loose balls that got away and missed box outs during the study sessions. Those moments jumped out from the film of UCLA’s 74-64 loss to North Carolina on Dec. 21 when the Bruins (7-5) also committed a season-high 22 turnovers.
In games against Michigan State, Notre Dame and North Carolina, UCLA has 41 turnovers to 25 assists. The muddled offense averaged only 62.3 points in those games compared to 75.8 points in the other nine games.
“The guy with the ball for us, that’s where we gotta be a lot tougher: our turnovers,” Cronin said. “The guy with the ball has got to display tremendous toughness and take care of the ball and find the open man.”
Cronin’s stout Cincinnati teams were known for defense and tenacity, but the coach doesn’t define toughness as just physically bullying opponents out of the way or outjumping them for rebounds. The coach shows his players examples of the toughness he wants to see. He shows Jason Kidd joining a New Jersey Nets team that was 26-56 and turning them into Eastern Conference champions during his first season. The former California guard did so with his defense, ball security and intelligence, Cronin said.
That’s the toughness Cronin has on his UCLA lesson plan.
“He’s putting more emphasis on understanding plays, understanding what you’re supposed to do and that’s mental toughness,” Bernard said. “He’s definitely heightened our awareness of what it means to be a real tough player and a real tough team.”
Up next for UCLA: vs. Cal State Fullerton
When: Saturday, 2 p.m. PST.
Where: Pauley Pavilion.
On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570.
Update: Cal State Fullerton (3-10) enters with a seven-game losing streak while UCLA is hoping to end a two-game skid to finish nonconference play. The Titans have been mostly without 2019 All-Big West honorable mention forward Jackson Rowe, who made his season debut on Dec. 14 after a knee injury. The senior is coming off 15 points in Fullerton’s loss to Loyola Marymount on Dec. 22.