Lazar Stefanovic's hot streak has the UCLA guard hungering for more wins

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 27: Lazar Stefanovic #10 of the UCLA Bruins grabs a rebound in front of Kijani Wright #33 and Kobe Johnson #0 of the USC Trojans in the first half at Galen Center on January 27, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Lazar Stefanovic (10) of UCLA grabs a rebound in front of USC's Kijani Wright (33) and Kobe Johnson (0) at Galen Center last month. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

A stickler for healthy eating, Lazar Stefanovic allowed himself a rare indulgence after his double-double in points and rebounds helped UCLA beat Oregon: a Double-Double from In-N-Out.

The gooey goodness was on brand for the moment, even if the 610 calories and 34 grams of fat weren’t as satisfying as the 15 points and 10 rebounds the junior guard logged against the Ducks.

Coach Mick Cronin cited Stefanovic’s maniacal diet as one of the reasons he has become perhaps the Bruins’ most dependable player. Then again, In-N-Out could have been a fitting name, image and likeness sponsor for Stefanovic through the season’s first two months for a different reason — too many of his shots went in and out.

He was often hesitant, slow to shoot and not very accurate when he did. Even though Stefanovic’s defense and rebounding remained solid, critics labeled him a bust and questioned Cronin’s evaluation in recruiting him as a transfer from Utah.

Now all those same people have undergone their own diet transformation, forced to consume ample amounts of crow.

Over the last six games, Stefanovic has resembled not just a better version of himself but someone else entirely, averaging 16.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists while making 42.4% of his shots and 43.8% of his three-pointers.

“Dennis Rodman,” Cronin said, comparing his veteran leader to the relentless rebounder who is now in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Read more: Young players fueling UCLA's resurgence as Bruins beat Oregon in a wild one

Before the season, Stefanovic said he came to UCLA to get the kind of demanding coaching that could help him play at the professional level. Coaches have tweaked the release on his shot and told him to get it off more quickly after the catch. Stefanovic has spent many extra hours in the gym before and after practice perfecting his form, serving as a model for teammates.

“There’s some things he does that I want to mimic,” sophomore center Adem Bona said of a player who’s averaging 11 points and 5.9 rebounds for the season while making 34% of his three-pointers. “I’m super competitive and I see him doing something, I’m like, ‘I want to do that, too.’ So I see him stretch, I want to stretch, too. I see him stay on the court for, like, 20 more minutes after [practice], I want to stay on the court, too, for 20 minutes. So I think it’s kind of contagious, like it’s passing down the whole team.”

Stefanovic’s hot shooting also seems to be spreading. UCLA has made 39.6% of its three-pointers over the last six games compared to 28.2% previously, a big reason the Bruins (11-11 overall, 6-5 Pac-12) have won five of their last six games. UCLA is part of a four-way tie for fourth place in the conference standings heading into a game against Stanford (11-10, 6-4) on Wednesday evening at Maples Pavilion.

The Bruins’ success from long range has proved doubly beneficial because it’s making opponents question how much defensive help they can send to swarm Bona inside.

“It makes the [other] team think twice, either to double [team] or give up the three to Lazar or to D.A. [Dylan Andrews] or Will [McClendon],” Bona said. “So, it helps the team.”

Bona compared Stefanovic to a soldier because of his precision in everything he does. Living with freshmen Aday Mara, Berke Buyuktuncel and Jan Vide in a four-bedroom apartment, Stefanovic set ground rules about cleaning common areas.

“They’re good,” Stefanovic said, “it’s just you have to make it clear right away so it doesn’t become a habit to leave something.”

Said Cronin: “He literally tells guys when he walks in, ‘Lights out’ at certain times, so his discipline’s unreal.”

Read more: 'Everything I do is for him.' UCLA's Dylan Andrews gets relentlessness from his 'Pops'

A native of Serbia, Stefanovic said his eating habits are a result of being too thin when he joined his first pro team at age 16. Nutritionists put him on a diet that included healthy, nutritious eating. A Double-Double with fries was not part of the plan, but every once in a while that sort of thing can be good for the mind, if not the body.

“Yeah,” Stefanovic said with a smile, “it was pretty good.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.