Prince Ali could only watch.
After the redshirt senior turned the ball over on UCLA’s final possession, he stood with slumped shoulders near midcourt as Cal State Fullerton dribbled out the clock for a 77-74 victory at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday. He threw his head back in anguish, turning his gaze toward the banners that are cruel reminders of how far UCLA has fallen.
The Bruins, who came back from 14-point deficit in the second half with a 17-0 run, dropped their third consecutive game to finish nonconference play at 7-6. The defeat approached a new low as Fullerton (4-10) ended a losing streak at seven games with its second victory all-time over UCLA in 12 games.
“Cal State Fullerton came in today like they were playing against UCLA,” Bruins coach Mick Cronin said. “The problem is they came in with the humility that they were playing against guys up on the rafters with their attitude and the way they approached the game. They’re not too good to do every little possible thing that goes into winning. And that’s what I got to change here. … We’re not going to win until we’re humble enough to do the things that it takes to win games. The name of your jersey has nothing to do with who wins basketball.”
After the Titans made nine of 13 three-point shots in the second half, the Bruins returned to their locker room with their heads down as they lost their third game this season to a midmajor opponent, which includes Hofstra and Brigham Young.
Redshirt freshman guard Tyger Campbell led the Bruins with 18 points and nine assists. He was the only UCLA player to make multiple three-point baskets, finishing with three of seven. The rest of his teammates made two of 13.
The Titans made 14 of 24 three-point shots. Fullerton, which had made 27.3% of its three-point shots going into the game, was better from three-point range (58.3%) than from inside the arc (45.5%).
“I apologize to our fans for our defensive effort once again,” Cronin said. “Sickening. Beyond sickening. Sickening at the highest level.”
Titans forward Jackson Rowe had his best game of the season since returning from a knee injury that cost him the majority of the nonconference season. In only his third game back, the senior who was an All-Big West Conference honorable mention last season, had 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
“This is a turning point in our season,” said guard Austen Awosika, who had 15 points and the game-sealing floater with 23 seconds left that put Fullerton up by three points. “This is the first game we’ve had everybody back healthy.”
Cronin said assistant Michael Lewis showed the Bruins for three days before the game Awosika’s driving right-handed floater. UCLA knew it was coming. Hence the disgust in Cronin’s voice as he recounted all the defensive mistakes that led to the final shot.
Players helped for no reason, Cronin said. They didn’t stay in front of opponents, gambled off shooters on the wing at the end of the shot clock and used zone defense as an excuse to take a rest. Cronin said he asked players in the locker room when they would finally challenge each other.
“We’re not holding each other accountable,” said junior guard Chris Smith, who had eight points and six rebounds. “Nobody’s getting on anybody. We’re playing soft, to be honest with you, and we’re not holding each other accountable and we gotta change both of those things.”