It would be instinct to point to Saturday as a clue as to why UCLA couldn’t win a national championship.
The quieter Heads would present the runaway against the Northwest as a reason the Bruins could do so. Ignore the narrow margin of victory. Mick Cronin’s team is on its way.
Too many misses for the Bruins at Golden 1 Center. Yet, somehow, they didn’t let the wild cats get past them. Somehow, they won.
they 68-63 victory Northwestern was more about their determination than their ability to shoot, and more about their comfort in doing whatever was necessary to win than their dominance in any given statistical class.
This was about Tyger Campbell missing all seven of his field goal attempts but sinking each of his ten free throws.
This had to do with Adem Bona missing a few free throws, only to come away with a crucial block on the Wildcats’ next offensive play, which led to a three-pointer by David Singleton that opened up a six-point advantage for UCLA with 1:52 to play.
“You have to be able to play winning basketball under conditions, because situations change,” Cronin said.
Situations also changed in Kansas earlier in the day. Things changed at Purdue the day before. Kansas and Purdue were not spared. UC did.
The Bruins are now one of only three teams in the country to have reached the Sweet 16 in each of the past three years, the other two being Arkansas and Houston. And Gonzaga could be fourth with a win over Texas Christian on Sunday.
This is no accident.
“When I got the job, people started asking about my playing style,” Cronin said. “He wins. We have to teach the guys how to win. There are a lot of ways to win.”
Such as taking advantage of transition opportunities to build a 35-25 lead at the end of the first half.
The Bruins only committed one fewer turnover than the Wildcats in the first half, but the difference was in what they did to their opponents’ mistakes. Over the first 20 minutes, the Bruins had a 13-0 advantage in quick break points and a record 11-3 advantage in points from turnovers.
“I thought that was a big deal because they’re such a good halffield defensive team,” Cronin said.
Early bullets proved valuable.
Northwestern finished with a 34-28 lead in rebounding, including 14-3 on offensive touchdowns. That led to the Wildcats’ 59 attempting a shot on the Bruins’ 44.
“If we had bounced the ball, we would have controlled the whole game,” Cronin said.
Instead, the Bruins found themselves tied at 45-45 with 11:26 left in the game.
Seven feet center Matthew Nicholson The Wildcats kept the game in the first half. Protect Odig hunt The Wildcats drove on a run that seriously threatened the Bruins in the second, as all 16 of Audige’s points were scored after halftime.
“We responded with a little snare in their battles and rolls that slowed their offense,” said Cronin.
The Wildcats have missed 12 of their last 14 field goal attempts.
Jaime Jacques Jr. finished with 24 points. Amari Bailey scored 14 points.
Bailey is still a freshman and is already the most talented player on the team, making five out of seven shots from the field.
“My fault he didn’t get enough shots,” Cronin said. “I’m still working on figuring that out.”
In their first two NCAA Tournament games, the Bruins quashed the notion that the loss of the best defensive player would eventually catch up with them. The Bruins have proven that they are just as fierce without Jaylen Clark as they were with him. They’re still competitive on every shot, and they’re still throwing themselves at every loose ball.
They may have lost the player who best embodied their defensive philosophy, but they still have their spiritual leader on the sidelines. They still have kronen. Players adopted Cronin’s demeanor, playing with an almost infuriating force. They don’t smile on the field.
UCLA’s next championship stop will be in Las Vegas. Every now and then, Cronin would have a few problems that needed to be addressed, including the potential loss of Singleton, who sprained his ankle in the last minute. But the coach has already taken care of the most important part. Cronin made the win the same kind the Bruins won Saturday in his second nature.
“Student. Incurable problem solver. Amateur baconaholic. Introvert. Infuriatingly humble music fanatic.”