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UCLA mired in funk, loses to Washington State to fall out of first place

UCLA guard Tyger Campbell shoots next to Washington State guard Isaac Bonton.
UCLA guard Tyger Campbell, right, shoots next to Washington State guard Isaac Bonton during the first half of the Bruins’ 81-73 loss Thursday.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

UCLA coach Mick Cronin stood idly for a moment after calling timeout early in the second half, waiting to unleash his fury. As Jaime Jaquez Jr. approached, Cronin gestured madly at the guard who had just missed a defensive assignment, leading to another open three-pointer.

In case the message wasn’t clear, Cronin continued his tirade once Jaquez sat down, waving both hands furiously while continuing to roar in displeasure.

There was plenty of frustration to go around Thursday on a night the Bruins fell out of first place in the Pac-12 Conference, deepening their midseason funk.

UCLA found itself adrift on multiple fronts during an 81-73 loss to Washington State at Beasley Coliseum that dropped the Bruins one game behind USC after they lost for the third time in four games. Their defense kept losing shooters beyond the three-point arc and their offense continually went in search of a quick shot, not a good one.

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“Terrible. Terrible,” Cronin said of his defense. “We’re trying to jump shoot our way to victory right now, guys. You go on the road and you score 73, go look at my career. I would say 95% victory in my 18 years as head coach if we’ve scored 73 points anywhere.”

UCLA has announced several planned improvements to Jackie Robinson Stadium, including a new state-of-the-art practice infield.

The Bruins increased their pressure and put a significant dent in what had become a 23-point deficit, pulling within seven after a Jaquez steal and layup with 1:18 left. But the Cougars made enough free throws the rest of the way to prevent a massive collapse.

The return of forward Cody Riley from a sprained ankle that had forced him to miss one game and a scoring spree from Johnny Juzang couldn’t prevent UCLA (13-5, 9-3 Pac-12) from getting soundly beaten by a team it had routed by 30 points when the teams met last month at Pauley Pavilion.

Riley was quiet in his return besides one early sequence in which he blocked a shot and made a turnaround jumper. He picked up his fourth foul less than a minute into the second half and finished with four points and one rebound in just 10 minutes after fouling out with 10 minutes left in the game.

“I love him, he’s been a great player for us, tonight was unacceptable,” Cronin said before noting that most of Riley’s fouls came via contact below the waist, one of the coach’s pet peeves.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin talks about the Bruins’ 81-73 loss to Washington State on Thursday.

A far bigger issue was UCLA’s defense. Cronin had said earlier this week that he didn’t want Washington State guard Isaac Bonton to beat his team, but the Bruins played as if they failed to read the game plan. Bonton made his usual array of circus shots as well as several open ones on the way to 26 points on eight-for-18 shooting for the Cougars (11-8, 4-8).

“Our problem’s defensively, or the lack of discipline, that I have to fix,” Cronin said. “Frustration with certain guys telling them exactly what to do and they’re not getting the job done.”

UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell was assertive early, with 13 of his 17 points in the first half, but he didn’t get enough support as the Bruins played a second consecutive game without forward Jalen Hill (personal reasons). Juzang scored 25 points after making seven of 18 shots and repeatedly getting to the free-throw line, making all eight attempts. No other UCLA player scored in double figures.

Cronin juggled his starting lineup, replacing Jules Bernard with David Singleton, and the move paid early dividends as Singleton buried a three-pointer in transition to give the Bruins a 9-8 lead as part of an 11-0 run that gave UCLA a 12-8 advantage.

Teammates are excited what UCLA forward Mac Etienne will do on the court during the Bruins’ trip to the Pacific Northwest.

The three-point line became a sore spot for UCLA for the rest of the game. Bonton made four of seven shots from beyond the arc for the Cougars, who combined to make 13 of 22 shots from long range (59.1%).

“Getting beat off the dribble, that’s what’s creating these rotations where everybody’s rotating and scrambling,” Juzang said. “Look, we know what we need to do better. We’ve got to be tougher and more disciplined.”

UCLA’s trajectory arrow was pointed down on ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA tournament bracket projections, the Bruins falling to a No. 7 seeding after having recently climbed as high as No. 5.

The Bruins could plummet further unless they recover quickly, the madness coming well before March.

“I told you guys we were not a juggernaut,” Cronin said. “We got to grind out victories. That’s just the way it is. Our talent is what it is. We got good enough players to get wins. But we’re not gonna win any games giving up 81 points.”


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