‘Captain Hook’ could return to yank UCLA players who aren’t getting it done on defense
A Mick Cronin tradition as familiar as outdressing his coaching counterpart could make a return this week inside Pauley Pavilion: the quick hook.
The UCLA basketball coach said Tuesday that lineup changes and extended benchings might be in store for his team to get back to playing the level of defense that made the Bruins look invincible the last time they were on their home court.
More recently, while losing three of their last four games, Bruin defenders have struggled to stay in front of their man or rotate properly to provide help.
“Whatever has to happen will happen to improve those areas,” Cronin said.
Cronin didn’t specify any changes heading into the No. 13 Bruins’ game against Washington State on Thursday night, but perhaps no one on the team has made a stronger case for an expanded role than center Myles Johnson.
The graduate transfer has combined active interior defense with strong rebounding while providing quality minutes off the bench. He made two deflections quickly after entering the game against USC on Saturday and finished with 11 rebounds in 21 minutes.
Over his last three games, Johnson has averaged 9.3 rebounds in 18.7 minutes per game. Over the same span, starting forward Cody Riley has averaged 4.7 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game.
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Johnson acknowledged the need to be more assertive at times, especially on offense, allowing him to live up to his nickname of “Myles the Monster.”
“I’ve been told that forever — I’ve been a nice guy, I’ve got to be more aggressive and stuff like that,” Johnson said. “So it’s definitely a challenge I’m facing, currently. Plus, we need it. I can help as much as I can, and being aggressive will obviously help the team a lot.”
Why is channeling that mind-set still an issue in his fourth college season?
“I honestly couldn’t tell you,” Johnson said. “I guess I’m just more mild-natured than I thought, and I guess I just have to bring that [assertiveness] out of myself.”
The same goes for teammates who need to recapture the defensive intensity they displayed during their last homestand, when the Bruins held Arizona, California and Stanford below 60 points. Each of UCLA’s last four opponents has topped 65 points, with three exceeding 75.
On-the-ball defense and weakside help aren’t the only issues.
“I don’t remember the last time we rotated and took a charge,” Cronin said.
Drew Peterson had 27 points and 12 rebounds, and the Trojans held on for a 67-64 win over the Bruins despite playing without an injured Isaiah Mobley.
For a team that’s dropped in the rankings, not to mention its projected NCAA tournament seedings, getting back on track could start with a winning effort.
“You can’t control whether the ball goes in or turnovers sometimes,” point guard Tyger Campbell said, “but we can control our energy and effort, so we’ve just got to start playing harder like we were.”
Those who don’t could find themselves sitting next to their coach on the bench.
The Bruins are taking a less-is-more approach with guard Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s practice workload, scaling it back in hopes of bolstering the health of his bothersome ankles.
On Monday, Jaquez completed some work on the exercise bike in addition to shooting drills. That was it.
“We’re limiting him as much as possible,” Cronin said. “It’s a day-to-day decision with Jaime.”
Jaquez wore ankle braces during UCLA’s loss to USC and seemed to be moving at half-speed, missing two layups and finishing with five points. He sprained his right ankle earlier this season and disclosed last month that his left ankle was beset with synovitis, a condition that causes inflammation.
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“I’ve been having issues with that ankle, so I think it was something that just happens over time, just always playing on it,” Jaquez said at the time. “I think people have it in their knees — they call it ‘jumper’s knee’ — I just have it in my ankle.”
Jaquez said he underwent daily treatment to strength the ankle, help with his balance and support the other muscles in his leg.
While Jaquez will have to monitor the ankles for the rest of this season, there was no worry that the issues would linger for the balance of his career.
“He’ll get things rectified after the season,” Cronin said. “He’ll be fine.”
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