Finally left at a loss, UCLA must seek answers after Stanford heartbreak
A gutting loss to Stanford in January isn’t always a bad thing.
One year ago, it might have saved UCLA’s season.
Bruins coach Mick Cronin savaged his players back then, calling them soft and selfish, inattentive and careless. Team meetings followed, lineup changes ensued, and UCLA won 11 of 14 games before the pandemic struck, ending hopes of March magic.
There’s no telling what might be in store for the current batch of Bruins in the wake of what happened Saturday, other than the image of Oscar da Silva flashing toward the basket lingering in their head like a bad breakup.
A moment after Da Silva took an inbounds pass for a layup that gave the Cardinal a 73-72 victory in overtime against the No. 24 Bruins at Kaiser Permanente Arena, UCLA guard Jules Bernard spiked the ball in frustration and his teammates walked off the court in dejection.
Stanford’s Oscar da Silva made a layup at the buzzer on an inbounds play to give UCLA its first Pac-12 loss this season, 73-72 in overtime in Santa Cruz.
Cronin rejected the notion that the setback could refocus his team after its sustained lackluster play going back more than a week finally left it with a loss, snapping the Bruins’ seven-game winning streak.
“The way you build programs,” Cronin said afterward, “losing is never acceptable.”
Results have nothing to do with the way he coaches, Cronin said, explaining that anyone who watched practice after UCLA survived a similarly lackluster performance against Arizona State earlier this month would have thought the Bruins lost to the Sun Devils.
“It’s a game of mistakes,” Cronin said after his team fell to 12-3 overall and 8-1 in the Pac-12 Conference. “And you got to grow and learn and get better, regardless of result.”
Inbounds passes figure to be among the items on the agenda at practice this week. Stanford scored on the same out-of-bounds play that it used at the end of the game right before halftime, befuddling the Bruins each time. Cronin shouldered the blame, saying it was the coaching staff’s job to make sure its team was prepared for those situations.
UCLA also failed to adequately focus its defense on Da Silva and Jaiden Delaire, the only two of Stanford’s top five scorers who played in the game because of several absences. Da Silva and Delaire combined for 45 points after repeatedly driving to the basket unimpeded.
“We just kept letting it happen,” Cronin said. “We had no business winning; if we’d have won, I would have told our guys the same thing. … We fought, but we put ourselves in a horrible position with unacceptable, unacceptable mistakes.”
UCLA struggled to counteract Stanford’s interior size, with forwards Cody Riley and Jalen Hill combining for only six points. The Bruins also couldn’t generate offense off their defense, scoring zero fast-break points. It would have been a blowout had UCLA guard Johnny Juzang not notched his career high with 18 points by halftime on the way to leading all scorers with 27.
The loss represented the Bruins’ first this season in a game decided by five points or fewer or one that went to overtime, UCLA having won its first seven games in those situations.
“This is a rough one,” Juzang said, adding that the outcome hinged on repeated breakdowns, not the final play.
Taking stock of his team’s deficiencies, Cronin said the Bruins were going to be in for a brutal practice Monday regardless of what happened in the last second of overtime. Now, they’ll have heartache heaped on top of all that hard work.
“You gotta play right. You got to play smart,” Cronin said. “The result will take care of itself.”
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