Fans weren’t the only thing conspicuously absent from UCLA’s nationally televised dud against Oregon.
Defensive effort and intensity, usually staples of any Mick Cronin-coached team, were nowhere to be found in the second half and overtime of the No. 3 Bruins’ first loss in nearly two months.
A lack of offensive flow and missed shots are going to happen, particularly for players in the midst of only their third game in 33 days because of COVID-19 issues, but the halfhearted approach on defense for a team that prides itself on that side of the ball was baffling.
“Defensively, to come out in the second half and have four deflections and give up 52% [shooting] and 62% in overtime is just an abomination,” Cronin said Thursday night after his team’s 84-81 overtime loss at Pauley Pavilion. “It’s an abomination, it’s embarrassing.”
Cronin vowed to fix the problems, but it won’t be as easy as going on a postgame rant. Oregon made four three-pointers in the first 3 ½ minutes of the second half and repeatedly beat defenders who seemed either a step slow or badly out of position while aggressively driving for layups.
After revealing that his team had slogged its way through a particularly inattentive practice the previous day, Cronin also lavished blame on himself for failing to get his players’ attention and correct the problems. But the coach said the Bruins’ urgency and pride should have helped them avoid this kind of massive letdown.
“At some point, if you're only doing it because the coach is making you, you're never gonna make it,” Cronin said. “In the pros, they don't have time to motivate you. You gotta have enough pride to get the job done, have pride that people don't take the ball from you, people don't just score on you, go by you. You gotta have some pride, and you have to have urgency to be great.”
Cronin also suggested that the buzz his team created with a Final Four run last spring and core that returned fully intact might have lulled the Bruins into complacency against a far hungrier opponent such as the Ducks.
“It’s got nothing to do with it,” Cronin said of the accolades leading to success. “You’ve got to physically compete.”
The lack of toughness plagued UCLA (10-2 overall, 2-1 Pac-12) beyond its suspect defense. Center Myles Johnson allowed Oregon guard Will Richardson to snatch a rebound for a layup. Guard Johnny Juzang failed to grab a rebound near the end of the first half, leading to a dunk. Guard Jaime Jaquez Jr., often the best all-around player on the court, was a nonfactor with four points, five rebounds and four turnovers in 33 minutes, compounding his off night by missing two free throws in overtime.
Freshman guard Peyton Watson had 10 points and eight rebounds to go with some lockdown defense in 21 energetic minutes off the bench but made only four of 12 shots, several of which were forced. Guard Jaylen Clark, who helped the Bruins force overtime with two steals in the final 33 seconds of regulation, was rewarded with only nine seconds of playing time in the extra period.
It added up to a predictable result for a team that figures to tumble in the national rankings regardless of what happens Saturday night against Oregon State at Pauley Pavilion.
“The way we played, even if we had won, I would have felt the same way, said the same things in the locker room,” Cronin said. “I don't grade the scoreboard, I grade the performance board and our effort and our attitude.”
There was no need to ask what grade the Bruins would have received on a night of so many failures.
VS. OREGON STATE
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Pauley Pavilion
On the air: TV: Pac-12 Network; Radio: 1150
Update: The Beavers (3-12, 1-4) held a one-point lead over No. 5 USC with less than four minutes to play Thursday night before giving up the final 11 points in an 81-71 loss. Guard Jarod Lucas averages a team-leading 14.3 points for Oregon State.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.