UCLA fans wanting the blur might get it from Mick Cronin
The blur could be coming to UCLA basketball.
The No. 22 Bruins have been upping the tempo in practices, maximizing the talents of a guard-heavy team entering a second season under coach Mick Cronin.
“He makes an emphasis on blitzing the ball, which is like just getting it up the court really fast and trying to score within the first eight seconds of the shot clock,” freshman guard Jaylen Clark said Tuesday. “So we’re playing extremely fast this year.”
Don’t expect Cronin to hand out T-shirts that say “Eight seconds or less.” The coach said he doesn’t even use that phrase, though he acknowledged going faster could benefit a team that will often have at least four players on the court who can handle the ball and make smart passes.
“Definitely trying to get some easier shots,” Cronin said, “and pick up our pace of play a little bit.”
The UCLA men’s basketball team was picked to win the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll, edging Arizona State and Oregon in the closest vote ever.
Redshirt sophomore point guard Tyger Campbell said he’s gotten fitter to run more with the ball while continuing to be assertive with his shooting. His willingness to score as well as pass helped the Bruins commence a late-season push in which they won 11 of their last 14 games before COVID-19 canceled the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments.
Cronin could surround Campbell with a slew of players who could make a faster offense hum. Guards Chris Smith, David Singleton, Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard, Jake Kyman and Jaime Jaquez Jr. are capable ballhandlers and forwards Jalen Hill and Cody Riley have vastly improved their passing skills.
Getting easier baskets doesn’t necessarily involve shooting quicker. Cronin has told his players that if they want to play faster, they have to play better defense because it will lead to more opportunities in transition.
“You guys don’t want me to call plays?” Cronin said of his message to his team. “Get a stop and take off. Push the ball, share the ball, space the floor.”
Let’s get it started?
Cronin said he disagreed with longtime friend and former boss Rick Pitino’s assertion that season openers should be pushed back amid a spike in viral cases, leading to May Madness with a delayed NCAA tournament.
“He’s very optimistic about things changing by January, where I’m not,” Cronin said of Pitino, the Iona coach who worked with Cronin at Louisville. “His thought process is different. It’s that we’ll be vaccinated, and we’ll just be safer, so just push it all back. I would be with him if I thought that was realistic; I don’t see where anything is going to be different in January.”
Cronin said UCLA forging ahead with a schedule that starts Nov. 25 against San Diego State at Viejas Arena in San Diego would build in more time for delays and makeup games.
UCLA’s Dec. 19 game against Kentucky in Cleveland will be the Bruins’ only nonconference game in the 2020-21 season played outside Southern California.
“The way I look at this is, it’s not fair to push things back and we only play 10 or 12 games and then the NCAA gets to have their tournament and get all their money,” Cronin said. “Chris Smith and all these kids, they deserve to try to get as many games as possible in and to do that we got to start now.”
Clark has shown glimpses of becoming an elite defensive player in practice. “There’s not a day that goes by, not one day, where he doesn’t steal an entry pass and go down and dunk it or lay it in,” Cronin said. ... Cronin on the possibility of the entire NCAA tournament being held in Indianapolis: “Being a high seed in the West is apparently not going to matter, since there will be no West.” … Cronin said Riley had returned to practice after suffering an ankle injury. … The Bruins held their Blue-Gold scrimmage Tuesday inside an empty Pauley Pavilion.
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