Mick Cronin’s cornerstone search starts off rough as UCLA spirals to another loss

UCLA guard Dylan Andrews, right, drives to the basket under pressure from Washington State guard Myles Rice.
UCLA guard Dylan Andrews, right, drives to the basket under pressure from Washington State guard Myles Rice during the first half Saturday.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

The search continues.

Saying he was trying to discover whom he could build a team around near the end of a maddening season, UCLA coach Mick Cronin did not unearth any surprises Saturday evening.

Point guard Dylan Andrews is likely to be a cornerstone going forward after he continued his late-season surge with another strong showing against Washington State.

Center Adem Bona might have no choice but to come back for another college season after committing more needless fouls that limited his effectiveness.


UCLA coach Mick Cronin says he’s ‘wildly disappointed’ with the Bruins’ lack of toughness after a dismal defensive effort in a 94-77 loss to Washington.

March 1, 2024

Guards Lazar Stefanovic and Sebastian Mack were pretty much as expected, the former player contributing shooting and rebounding while the latter combined steady offensive production with spotty defense.

Center Aday Mara unveiled some potential in spot minutes with a couple of baskets, a block and a nice touch pass.

Everybody else?

Hard to say. Nobody else did much, the Bruins collectively folding in the final minutes of a 77-65 defeat to the No. 19 Cougars at Beasley Coliseum that had appeared to be theirs for the taking.

UCLA guard Will McClendon made a strong case for more time on the bench after ending a scoreless performance in which he needlessly fouled a three-point shooter with an additional flagrant-2 foul for a hit to Isaac Jones’ groin. The play resulted in McClendon’s ejection with 7 minutes 23 seconds left in the game.

Cronin said he could not comment on the foul because he didn’t see a replay. McClendon was not made available to reporters.

The play was a huge turning point in the wrong direction for the Bruins (14-15 overall, 9-9 Pac-12) who quickly saw their three-point lead evaporate as Washington State (23-7, 14-5) commenced a 14-2 run that gave the Cougars a 69-60 advantage.

Andrews finished with 21 points but was part of back-to-back shot clock violations that doomed the Bruins’ comeback hopes on the way to their fourth consecutive defeat. Bona fouled out with 3:21 left, a fitting end to another frustrating performance in which he logged 10 points and one rebound in just 21 minutes. Mack and Stefanovic added 11 points apiece.


Forward Jaylen Wells scored 27 points for the Cougars, who outrebounded the Bruins 39-24 and took 22 more free throws. Washington State’s 16 offensive rebounds led to 20 second-chance points, more than offsetting an efficient shooting performance for UCLA in which it made 47.2% of its shots, six of 15 three-pointers (40%) and nine of 11 free throws (81.8%).

“You can’t control your defensive backboard, it negates all your effort and hustle and good defense and it’s just demoralizing,” Cronin said, “so that’s our biggest problem, that’s what got us beat without question.”

Cronin pointed out that his big men — Bona, Mara, Brandon Williams and Berke Buyuktuncel — combined for three rebounds in 54 minutes. Stefanovic grabbed a team-high eight rebounds but said that was largely a function of the Cougars focusing on Bona.

“Every team goes and puts probably two guys on him to block him out,” Stefanovic said. “He draws a lot of attention. Honestly, it’s how I get a lot of mine because he either boxes out a guy or he draws attention from the other guys, so someone else should get it.”

Washington State forward Andrej Jakimovski, center, grabs a rebound next to UCLA forward Kenneth Nwuba.
Washington State forward Andrej Jakimovski, center, grabs a rebound next to UCLA forward Kenneth Nwuba (14) during the second half Saturday.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

The Bruins were celebrating midway through the second half after Williams took a touch pass from Mara and drove for a dunk that caused Bona to triumphantly throw both arms into the air from the bench with his team ahead 54-51.


Most of the remaining highlights belonged to the Cougars after they were on the verge of getting run off their own court in the opening minutes.

Two days after giving up a season-worst 94 points, UCLA was completely locked in on both sides of the ball in the early going. The Bruins didn’t give up any easy baskets and generated plenty of offense off their crisp defense in taking a 19-6 lead.

“We came out strong, man, we hit first,” said Andrews, who tallied 14 points by halftime in another performance worthy of making him an all-Pac-12 player. “It felt good to be able to do that.”

Cronin said his team’s cratering from its early double-digit lead was reminiscent of its road loss to Arizona, when mounting fouls on the Bruins were a big part of their undoing.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin had to bounce back quickly from the Bruins’ loss to USC, shifting his focus to recruiting and the team’s next challenges.

Feb. 27, 2024

“You can’t run your offense, you can’t set a pick and roll, foul every play,” Cronin said of the lack of rhythm, “but every foul’s on us.”

And so the search goes on. UCLA could have as few as three games left, including its opener in the Pac-12 tournament, for Cronin to identify which players he wants to build around for next season.


The transfer portal opens March 18. The clock is ticking.