Mick Cronin says UCLA's disappointing season is '100%' on him

UCLA coach Mick Cronin talks to his players during a time out
UCLA coach Mick Cronin talks to his players during a timeout. Cronin has accepted responsibility for the team's disappointing season. (Eric Thayer / Associated Press)

He evaluated the prospects, recruited them and signed them to play for him.

So how much responsibility should Mick Cronin bear for what could be UCLA’s first losing season in nearly a decade?

“One hundred percent,” the coach said Tuesday. “A hundred percent. Who else would it be?”

The players, perhaps, given they’re the ones who have struggled to generate an offensive flow and grab rebounds, among other things?

“They’ve done the best they can do,” said Cronin, whose Bruins (14-15 overall, 9-9 Pac-12) must beat No. 5 Arizona on Thursday and Arizona State on Saturday to assure themselves of at least a .500 record by season’s end. “It’s just reality. We got stuck in a rebuilding year, we tried to overcome it with our recruiting and it’s the way it is.”

Read more: 'I want it to be my last job.' Mick Cronin says he's committed to UCLA despite adversity

Cronin said he did not regret his recruiting efforts because it’s too early to judge a class of seven freshmen who might blossom in the years to come.

“Some players take longer than others and nobody bats 1.000 because I can tell you so many stories where you thought this guy was going to be your great recruit and he wasn’t and this guy who was easy, you saw him once and asked him to come, and he ends up playing in the NBA,” Cronin said. “Meanwhile, you spent two years chasing some guy that never helps you win.”

Among the freshmen, Sebastian Mack and Brandon Williams have earned roles as starters while Berke Buyuktuncel and Aday Mara are significant contributors off the bench. But Cronin pointed to Mack playing more minutes than he’s ready for as one of the team’s shortcomings.

“It’s not anything against him,” Cronin said. “In coaching, you know you’re in trouble when you’re asking players to do stuff that they’re not ready to do that you haven’t trained them to do that they don’t have the experience to do, they don’t have the tool set to get that kind of job done yet because of the situation where we had to play so many young guys.”

Meanwhile, freshmen Jan Vide, Devin Williams and Ilane Fibleuil have struggled to make an impact off the bench because of repeated mistakes that have kept them from earning more minutes.

“Freshmen can only handle so many minutes and after a certain minute level for a player that’s young, it’s going to be diminishing returns and our bench hasn’t been up to snuff — not for a lack of effort,” Cronin said. “So when you have young guys on the floor too long, they’re going to foul — that’s been an issue for us — your defense breaks down, your [shooting] percentage drops, and so in a nutshell, if you were to say, what’s been the biggest issue, that would be it.”

UCLA coach Mick Cronin speaks with forward Berke Buyuktuncel during a game against Washington State on March 2
UCLA coach Mick Cronin speaks with forward Berke Buyuktuncel during a game against Washington State on March 2 in Pullman, Wash. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)

While praising his young players’ attitudes, Cronin acknowledged trying to find a balance between teaching them it’s not acceptable to lose and nurturing their talent.

“You have to learn that there's a point of the guy's giving you everything he can and you can't ask him for more than that or you're just gonna beat him down and he ain't gonna be able to give you that,” Cronin said. “Then, you have to be able to decide when a guy's not giving you everything he can, and that's where the coaching becomes a true art form. Because you say, 'Well, we're losing and they need to do this to win.'

“Well, OK, the Dodgers have bad starting pitching so they need to score 10 runs to win every game. Well, that's not realistic, you know?”

So where do the Bruins go from here? Less than a week after saying he was seeking players to build around, Cronin sounded as if he were willing to keep as much of the roster intact as possible, the transfer portal and name, image and likeness issues willing.

“Yeah,” Cronin said when asked if he wanted to keep his team together. “Now, times have changed, so we’ll see how that all goes.”

Upon further review

Washington State guard Isaiah Watts drives to the basket while pressured by UCLA guard Will McClendon
Washington State guard Isaiah Watts drives to the basket while pressured by UCLA guard Will McClendon on March 2 in Pullman, Wash. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)

Cronin said sophomore guard Will McClendon was “heartbroken” about his flagrant-2 foul resulting in his ejection with seven minutes left in the Bruins’ loss to Washington State on Saturday.

After rewatching the play, Cronin was livid ... at the officials.

“It was a blind screen,” Cronin said of the play in which McClendon’s arm made contact with Isaac Jones’ groin area. “So when Will turned, his arm was between the guy’s legs. I can freeze-frame it for ya and you can see his hand through the guy’s legs. And when he went to get around the screen, the guy grabbed him and held him and then flopped and act like he punched him.”

Cronin asked McClendon to give his accounting of the play without letting him know he had watched the replay. McClendon’s story checked out.

“It's exactly what he told me,” Cronin said. “Will would not punch somebody breaking into his own house. That's how sweet of a kid Will McClendon is. But I wanted to wait until I saw it. I knew because I know, you know your guys.”

A complaint lodged with the Pac-12 office yielded only a difference of opinion.

“It's all been sent in, it's been disagreed upon; I'm always wrong,” Cronin deadpanned. “It's amazing — although there's video evidence, I'm absolutely wrong. So, that's what I've been told. … If I was wrong on that play, I'll donate my salary to the African UNICEF children's fund.”


Cronin said Brandon Williams, who played through cramps and a respiratory illness last week, was feeling better. … Fourth-year forward Logan Cremonesi will be the only player recognized on senior night Saturday against Arizona State. Sixth-year center Kenneth Nwuba participated in the ceremony last season. … Roughly 100 former UCLA players are expected to be recognized at halftime Saturday as part of an alumni reunion.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.