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UCLA’s game against Alabama State canceled because of COVID-19 protocols

UCLA coach Mick Cronin instructs players during a win over Villanova last month.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin instructs players during a win over Villanova last month. The Bruins’ game against Alabama State on Wednesday was canceled.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
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Nearly four hours before UCLA was scheduled to tip off against Alabama State on Wednesday night, the school announced that coach Mick Cronin would not attend the game at Pauley Pavilion after entering COVID-19 protocols.

A few hours later, after mulling the situation further, school officials decided no one should show up. It wasn’t worth the risk.

The nonconference game was called off out of an abundance of caution, leaving the fourth-ranked Bruins’ showdown against North Carolina on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas in doubt as the team waited to learn whether anyone else would be impacted.

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Every UCLA player besides those recovering from injuries was expected to be available to play against Alabama State, an athletic department spokesperson said, meaning there was no widespread outbreak of the virus as of Wednesday. But further testing was expected in the coming days to make sure no other players or coaches needed to enter COVID-19 protocols.

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The plan in case the game had been played Wednesday was for Darren Savino, a longtime assistant under Cronin who followed him from Cincinnati to Westwood, to serve as the team’s acting head coach against the Hornets. Savino could also be in line to coach against the Tar Heels on Saturday if the game is able to be played and Cronin remained sidelined.

Cronin’s older brother, Dan, wrote on Twitter that Mick was doing OK.

“He is fine he will be back soon everyone relax,” Dan Cronin tweeted.

The Bruins had several COVID-19 disruptions since the start of the pandemic but none involving their own players or coaches that led to the cancellation or postponement of a game before Wednesday.

Cronin is among a parade of players and coaches across the nation who have been impacted by COVID-19 in recent weeks. Washington has had multiple games canceled or postponed, including a game against UCLA earlier this month that the Huskies were forced to forfeit, after several players and coaches were put in COVID-19 protocols.

Bruins guard Jules Bernard said afterward that the situation with Washington was a reminder that the disease wasn’t going away.

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“It’s tough right now obviously because … it seems like it’s sort of going back to normal, but then we have what happened last week,” Bernard said. “But I think we’ve all done a good job of staying safe, we pretty much just hang around each other, for the most part.

“So we’re not really that worried because we never really branch out like that and we’re more together most of the time, but … obviously after last week, we had a little talk, just keep being safe and make sure that, for each other and for our school, just keep being available to play.”

Even before UCLA’s game against Washington was canceled, Cronin noted the worsening COVID-19 landscape.

“It seems to be becoming a problem — I’ve seen that a lot of NBA guys are dealing with it,” Cronin said at the time. “It’s unfortunate and we all need to be careful, you know, everybody get their extra shot and do everything you can” to stay safe.

“When it comes to the COVID stuff, pray everybody’s OK, hope it just doesn’t become a massive problem, right, for all the sports.”

UCLA (8-1) has played its best basketball of the season in the three weeks since a 20-point loss to Gonzaga, recapturing the defensive intensity and toughness that helped the Bruins reach the Final Four last spring.

The NFL, NBA and NHL are seeing increasing COVID-19 outbreaks with dozens of players in health and safety protocols as the Omicron variant spreads.

During a 67-56 victory over Marquette on Saturday, UCLA won despite shooting 36.4% from the field because it held the Golden Eagles to 33.3% and outrebounded them by 11.

“You have to be able to win that game where you don’t play great on offense,” Cronin said Tuesday. “You know, you’re trying to get to a point where you can win six in a row in March, you’re going to have to win in different ways. You’re going to run into a Michigan, who you can’t score on, and you’ve got to beat them with your defense. You know, other teams, you might have to beat them with your offense or your rebounding, so to me, you’ve got to be able to win in different ways.”

The Bruins hoped to get senior forward Cody Riley back Wednesday from the sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee that has sidelined him since the first half of the season opener.

Now that return has been pushed to Saturday, as long as the team can avoid further disruptions involving the virus that has been one of its biggest nemeses of the season.


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