UCLA gives Mick Cronin the gritty game he demands in win over Marquette
The message was clearly conveyed. It was going to take more grit to match a tough, physical opponent such as Marquette on Friday night at Pauley Pavilion.
It wasn’t long before three Bruins dove on the court chasing a loose ball. Chris Smith and Jaquez stepped in front of driving players to take charges. Jules Bernard came up with a steal that led to his own layup.
UCLA was starting to show the resolve it would need to emerge with a 69-60 victory over the Golden Eagles that qualified as the Bruins’ most impressive of the young season.
The UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans will play in an empty Rose Bowl on Saturday, with both coaches hoping to continue with the progress their teams have made this season.
It was the first meeting in Los Angeles between these storied programs and, given the riveting display, might be worthy of developing into an intersectional rivalry.
Jaquez shrugged off late foul trouble to tie his career high with 18 points and Bernard added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Bruins (5-1), who closed the game on a 13-4 run and won in large part by playing lockdown defense and committing only seven turnovers to Marquette’s 18.
“I just wanted to come out and be myself, play aggressive, make plays for the team,” Bernard said after coming off the bench for the first time this season.
Cronin called Bernard the game’s most valuable player because of his toughness, rebounding and efficiency, noting that he took just seven shots.
“He’s becoming a very, very good player in front of our eyes,” Cronin said.
Smith, who entered the game averaging a team-high 15 points per game, didn’t log his first points until two free throws with 5:54 left. It was part of a 7-0 run for the Bruins that gave them a 63-56 lead on another Smith free throw as the Bruins made a sustained effort to get him the ball down low on a night he missed all eight of his shots.
“You know, it’s late game, shots aren’t going in for us, so tried to do some things to get Chris into the post,” Cronin said on a night his team made only 41.1% of its shots and 26.1% of its three-pointers. “Get him close, tried to do some things to get a switch and get a mismatch and post him up. It worked out for us.”
Smith showed the other ways he could contribute by grabbing three offensive rebounds and saving a ball going out of bounds with a behind-the-back pass to Hill. It started a trend as Smith and Hill blocked two more shots in the final minutes.
Smith finished with four points, seven rebounds and two steals to go with his block.
Highlights from UCLA’s 69-60 win over Marquette at Pauley Pavilion on Friday.
“He showed a lot of maturity tonight,” Cronin said, “because he could have hung his head and he went and got himself to the foul line got us some big points and had a huge block and got a couple of big-time rebounds down the stretch.”
Cronin also credited his players for ceasing their habit of fouling the Golden Eagles (4-2) and sending them to the free-throw line. Marquette made more free throws (10) than field goals (eight) in the second half but did not make one trip to the foul line after the under-eight-minute timeout.
“Our defense got really smart late in the game,” Cronin said. “We did a great job and played intelligent defense in the last 7½ minutes.”
Guard D.J. Carton scored 18 points to lead Marquette, which could not capitalize on outrebounding the Bruins by six.
UCLA’s athletic department Tuesday announced a partnership with Jordan Brand and Nike to replace Under Armour.
The Bruins endured an epic cold stretch early in the second half, missing seven consecutive shots, before Bernard found Jake Kyman in the corner for an open three-pointer that gave UCLA a 47-45 lead.
Winning on a night that his offense struggled so mightily reinforced Cronin’s belief in his team’s need to thrive in other areas to be successful.
“You’ve got to continue to improve and I think that we’re improving in certain areas, especially our defense,” Cronin said, “and that’s going to give us a chance to win a lot of games.”
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