'It's not our talent, it's our discipline': UCLA looking for stronger defense after Main Event losses
Two days after giving up 51 points in the second half of a loss to Illinois, UCLA (3-2) gave up 43 second-half points in an 80-75 loss to the Baylor Bears in the consolation game of the Continental Tire Main Event. Reporters on hand in Las Vegas heard coach Mick Cronin tearing into his team in the locker room from the media interview space… two rooms away.
Mick Cronin was so unhappy after that game that his yelling could be heard in the interview room, two rooms over from the UCLA locker room.
— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) November 21, 2022
UCLA approached the new season with a ‘banner or bust’ mentality. With the returns of Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell, UCLA had a pair of potential All-Americans who seemed the perfect kinds of players to help Cronin thread the needle this season.
Departures from Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard, Peyton Watson, Cody Riley, Myles Johnson in the offseason were offset by the arrival of 5-star freshmen Amari Bailey and Adem Bona. Jaylen Clark opened the year with his hair on fire, a likely Most Improved Player in the Pac-12 this season.
Instead, the Bruins beat up on lesser competition in their first three games and then fell on their face in Las Vegas. Cronin has been very unhappy with the defense. The 3-point defense in particular has been very leaky. The Bruins are 120th nationally in points allowed per 100 possessions.
“We’re bad. We’re not good enough to win either game, defensively,” Cronin said after the Main Event. “And that’s my job. I have known it was coming. When you lose Myles, Cody, Jules – veteran guys. You got a lot of young guys. We’ve worked hard at it. We’re just not there yet. Not against a team like this. We’re just not there yet. Not enough to win the game.”
Baylor’s LJ Cryer had 28 points. Adam Flagler had 22. The Bears shot 7-for-15 from 3 in the second half. Illinois shot 7-for-13 from 3 in the second half.
“Mental effort is more important than physical effort,” said Cronin. “To do what you’re being told to do. We know a side out-of-bounds play is coming, and we let – we went over it this morning – I told the guy at halfcourt he was coming, the defender, we let Cryer come off and bang in a 3. We’re just not there yet. I’m more upset with my leadership about it than the younger guys.”
Added Clark: “We’ve got to go back home and lock in on the defensive end. It’s not our talent, it’s our discipline at this point.”
Last Friday, the Bruins led Illinois 37-28 at halftime and then were outscored by 18 in the second half. Cronin was as tough on his team in the postgame as you’ll hear any coach be. He was asked about an individual player in the postgame media session and shot back that he had “no positive thoughts on any UCLA player’s performance” because Illinois was “a lot tougher” than the Bruins and his side “wilted” when it got punched in the mouth.
It’s a long season and the Bruins have endured slow starts like this before, but the margins are slim if you want to win a championship and Cronin is sounding alarms early. Even after the team’s 30-point exhibition win before the season, Cronin blasted the defensive effort of his elder statesmen.
“This is a long season,” Cronin said. “Who you are now is irrelevant to who you are in March, and I know these games matter for seeding but we’re going to find out what we’re made of. Right now, we’re not tough enough to get the job done on the defensive end.”
UCLA plays Pepperdine at home Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network) looking to halt the two-game slide.