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UCLA’s offense kicks into low, low gear in loss to Trojans

UCLA forward Jalen Hill (24) loses the ball as he's triple teamed by USC's Isaiah Mobley (15), Daniel Utomi (4), and Onyeka Okongwu (21) during the second half of a game March 7, 2020, at Galen Center.
UCLA forward Jalen Hill (24) loses the ball as he’s triple-teamed by USC’s Isaiah Mobley (15), Daniel Utomi (4), and Onyeka Okongwu (21) during the second half Saturday at Galen Center.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Ugh. Blech. Yuck.

Pick your expression of disgust. All applied to UCLA’s offense on an afternoon when its usually stout defense and resilience kept the Bruins in a cross-town rivalry game that otherwise wouldn’t have made room for any drama in the final seconds.

Passes were thrown out of bounds. Layups were missed. A pushoff resulted in an offensive foul and a turnover.

There was plenty to be annoyed about Saturday afternoon at the Galen Center well before Jonah Mathews’ three-pointer with one second left nudged USC to a 54-52 victory, ending the Bruins’ monthlong joy ride as well as any hopes of winning the Pac-12 Conference’s regular-season title outright.

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“Our execution just wasn’t there,” UCLA guard Chris Smith said after having to watch the final 27 seconds from the bench because he fouled out.

Mathews held his shooting arm aloft in delight for several seconds as he skipped around the court after sinking the Bruins and their seven-game winning streak.

For UCLA, there was a different set of enduring images on a day it shot a season-low 31.4% and committed nine of its 12 turnovers in the second half.

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There was coach Mick Cronin, furiously pointing to direct an offense that appeared unsure how to attack the Trojans’ body-checking, pack-it-in defense.

There was point guard Tyger Campbell, holding out his arms in frustration after throwing a pass intended for teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. out of bounds.

Most memorably, there was shooting guard Jake Kyman on his backside after his team’s final slip became painfully literal.

Kyman, the player the Bruins wanted to shoot while trailing by one point coming out of a timeout with 39 seconds left, was open on the wing after coming around a screen. Smith saw Kyman moving into unguarded territory and threw him the ball. Kyman stumbled and fell backward, the ball sailing over him and out of bounds.

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“I should’ve taken a dribble because if I would’ve taken a dribble, if he would’ve fallen like he did, I could’ve still kept possession of the ball,” Smith said. “So I feel bad about myself.”

The Bruins eventually took a 52-51 lead that was attributable to everything besides their offense. USC’s Onyeka Okongwu missed two free throws before the Trojans’ Ethan Anderson fouled UCLA’s Cody Riley while fighting for a rebound with nine seconds left. Riley, who scored a team-high 13 points off the bench, made the first free throw and then the second after USC called time out.

Those free throws didn’t matter because of Mathews’ heroics but wouldn’t have been necessary had the Bruins had any success on offense.

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“We really put ourselves in a hole offensively,” Cronin said after his team lost for the first time this season when holding an opponent to 73 points or fewer, having gone 18-0 previously. “We almost found a way to steal a game when we were about as bad as you can be on offense for a long portion of the game and their defense was really good, but we just had plays where we threw the ball out of bounds.”

Redshirt sophomore forward Jalen Hill was the only UCLA player to make more than a third of his shots and that’s because Hill took only one. Jaquez made one of eight shots, Smith four of 12 and Campbell three of 11 while playing with a white wrap on his right hand. Cronin used sophomore guard David Singleton to direct the offense instead of Campbell at times in the second half, citing strategy.

Almost nothing worked, hurting UCLA’s NCAA tournament chances and likely leaving the Bruins (19-12 overall, 12-6 Pac-12) in need of at least one victory in the Pac-12 tournament next week. Second-seeded UCLA will open the tournament Thursday evening at T-Mobile Arena in a quarterfinal against an opponent to be determined.

While Cronin vowed to make offensive fixes before the Bruins’ next game, Smith delivered a message to his teammates in the locker room about unleashing a different brand of basketball in the conference tournament.

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“I said, ‘I don’t know who we’re playing yet, but I feel bad for them because they’re gonna get pummeled,’ ” Smith said. “I don’t know what else to say, but we’re taking this all out on them.”


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