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Cleared to play, UCLA men’s basketball team must find opponents

UCLA coach Mick Cronin yells to players from the sideline during a game against Utah on Feb. 2.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin yells to players during a game against Utah on Feb. 2.
(Alex Goodlett / Associated Press)

The rebirth of a season has spawned what Mick Cronin calls his Big Board of Possibilities.

It’s a whiteboard that the UCLA men’s basketball coach intends to fill with potential teams and dates and locations as part of his efforts to salvage a nonconference schedule.

Everything remains in flux one day after the Pac-12 Conference cleared its teams to play as soon as Nov. 25.

The Bruins already have lost Harvard from their schedule because the Ivy League isn’t playing this fall. Marquette might want to back out of its game originally scheduled for December in Pauley Pavilion because the Big East is adding two games to its conference schedule. Georgetown has pulled out of the Wooden Legacy because of travel restrictions, leaving that four-team tournament also involving UCLA in limbo.

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Cronin needs to find seven nonconference games, which could include four games plus a three-game tournament or five games plus a two-game tournament. He contemplated the challenges not with a sigh but a smile.

Six months after the pandemic halted their season, UCLA’s basketball players were back together again for a team meeting unlike any in Bruins history.

“The logistics of scheduling right now is an official nightmare, but it’s a good one. We’re all happy we’re doing it,” Cronin said Friday, alluding to the certainty of having a season. “It’s like a Disney movie, like I’m driving down Sepulveda whistling.”

The only given on UCLA’s schedule is that the Bruins will play San Diego as part of a previous agreement between the teams. The Bruins could add other nonconference games against California opponents, given the geographic advantages.

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“You can do neutral sites, you can get to each other a lot easier, a lot safer, without people having to get on airplanes,” Cronin said. “So the phone lines to all the California schools are open.”

UCLA also is scheduled to play Kentucky in Brooklyn, N.Y., in December as part of the CBS Sports Classic, but Cronin said he has heard the event might be moved to the Midwest. School officials have inquired as to whether event organizers might allow a field that also includes North Carolina and Ohio State to play two games instead of one.

After half a year without her players, UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close welcomed some back to practice for group workouts.

Cronin said he did not envision the Pac-12’s expanded conference schedule that calls for 20 games this season to change, but one idea that’s been floated is to add a makeup week to the end of the schedule in case any games have to be postponed.

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NCAA health and safety guidelines released Friday call for teams to be tested for COVID-19 at least three times a week on nonconsecutive days, but Cronin said UCLA could enhance the safety of its nonconference opponents who come to Pauley Pavilion by sharing the rapid daily tests that are expected to arrive on campus before the end of this month.

Other issues also must be sorted before the opener in two months. Can parents attend home games? Will school officials clear the Bruins to travel as part of their nonconference schedule?

“There’s so many moving parts,” Cronin said. “You think recruiting was hard; this is going to be crazy. And it’s unprecedented, right? We’ve never dealt with scheduling at this time of year. I mean, you’ve got a lot of people in a scramble.”


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