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Coach Mick Cronin laments defensive ‘breakdowns’ as UCLA falls to No. 20 Ohio State

Ohio State's Justice Sueing drives against UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. in the second half Dec. 19, 2020, in Cleveland.
Ohio State’s Justice Sueing drives against UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. on Saturday in Cleveland. The Bruins lost 77-70 to fall to 5-2 this season.
(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)

Mick Cronin didn’t focus on the bad shots, even though there were many. It was the open shooters left in the corner and the nonexistent box-outs that replayed in the UCLA coach’s mind after the Bruins lost 77-70 to Ohio State in the CBS Sports Classic on Saturday.

“The basketball gods get you,” Cronin said. “To me, you deserve to lose when those type of things happen.”

The “inexcusable mental breakdowns” ended UCLA’s five-game winning streak. The Bruins allowed the No. 20 Buckeyes (6-1) to shoot 50% from the field. Ohio State’s Eugene Brown III, who was shooting 18.2% from three-point range, sank all three of his three-point attempts Saturday, including back-to-back long balls with about five minutes remaining. The first of those broke the game’s eighth and final tie. UCLA (5-2) didn’t have any response when its offense went cold, missing six of seven field-goal attempts to finish the game.

Jalen Suggs scored 18 of his career-high 27 points in the first half and No. 1 Gonzaga held off a late rally to beat No. 3 Iowa 99-88.

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“Mental toughness is just as important as physical toughness,” Cronin said. “We had some unbelievably bad decisions on the defensive end that cost us this game.”

The Bruins haven’t played in the main draw of the NCAA tournament since 2017, a streak that UCLA was hoping to end last season with a run in the Pac-12 tournament before it was canceled because of COVID-19. Even without fans, Saturday’s game in Cleveland had the energy of a postseason preview.

Both teams shot better than 50% from the field for most of the first half while combining for just nine turnovers in a high-quality, high-intensity game. UCLA’s execution, orchestrated by point guard Tyger Campbell’s three first-half assists, prompted CBS announcer Carter Blackburn to quote legendary play-by-play voice Dick Enberg.

Highlights from UCLA’s 77-70 loss to No. 20 Ohio State on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic in Cleveland.

“It’s like the ‘Bruin Ballet,’ ” Blackburn said, referring to a chapter in Enberg’s biography, after Campbell swung a quick pass around the top of the arc to Jake Kyman for a three-pointer in the first half.

Campbell finished with five assists and three points with no turnovers, but the Bruins tripped over their feet down the stretch. They settled for tough jump shots, and the extra passes that punctuated the first half disappeared, as did a six-point second-half lead.

“We tried to do too much and took a couple really hard ones in crucial times where we gotta make sure to get a great look or get a layup or a foul,” Cronin said. “We just didn’t get that in the crucial moments.”

Michaela Onyenwere and Natalie Chou each scored 18 points to lead No. 11 UCLA to a 71-37 win over California, while USC lost 80-60 to No. 1 Stanford.

Sophomore Johnny Juzang had 13 points but was one for six from three-point range and is two for 14 from beyond the arc in the last two games.

Guard Chris Smith struggled offensively for the second straight game. He scored six points on two-for-eight shooting and grabbed five rebounds in a season-low 20 minutes. The preseason All-Pac-12 first-team selection was 0 for 8 from the field in UCLA’s win against Marquette on Dec. 11.

“This game was extremely physical, and I thought that bothered Chris,” Cronin said.


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