UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin has always wanted more. Despite a happy fan base or joining a win column, he’ll be the first to tell you if the performance isn’t up to his standards.
He wasn’t happy after losing 83-63 to second-placed Bruins to top-ranked Gonzaga in Las Vegas on Tuesday night – that’s to be expected. He said he knew it was coming, even after UCLA’s win over No. 4 Villanova at home a few weeks earlier.
“Defense,” Cronin said, pointing out what his team lacks the most. “All you have to do is look at our numbers from tonight. Everyone was happy after Villanova, and I showed my guys that we only flipped them seven times in our sold-out Crowd home gym, coming down to 10.” fell.
The Bruins (5-1) stayed in Las Vegas through Thanksgiving, and will now play their third straight road game at UNLV (4-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Rebels are 4-0 at home this season.
“You take your show on the road, you better do some brashness and defense,” Cronin said.
However, shot-making will also help. UCLA scored 45% against Bellarmine and just 34% against Gonzaga. The Zags shot 56% in that one-sided game.
“If you’re only going to win when the ball goes inside, you’re going to be a .500 team. Better fill out your NIT papers,” Cronin said.
The team is still without veteran forward Cody Riley, who suffered a knee injury in the team’s home opener on November 9 and has not played since. When the team isn’t shooting well from the perimeter, the 6-foot-9 senior provides a calming interior presence.
“Cody hasn’t been walking through that door for a couple of weeks,” Cronin said. “I’m not playing him until I know he’s safe and ready, he’s got a career. I’m not going to back him.”
Riley scored 104 last season, finishing second on the team, which was crucial in a stretch during UCLA’s Final Four run when scoring became difficult. Riley also provides a rotational know-how on the defense that Cronin values.
“We are not the number 2-ranked team in the country without Cody Riley,” Cronin said. “Anyone who thought that wasn’t going to be a factor doesn’t see us play too much.”
UCLA scored more than 90 points per game in its first four home wins this season with victories over Cal State Bakersfield, Villanova, Long Beach State and North Florida.
“If you want to be a consistent winner, you have to win when you don’t make shots and it’s a fight because we’re a skilled team, but we can’t count on that,” Cronin said. “It’s a fool’s gold net.”
No. 2 at UNLV (4-2) UCLA (5-1)
where: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas. nev.
When: 2 p.m. (PT)
TV/Radio: stadium / 570 am