Assuming he was among the handful of people with access to the Pac-12 Network, Mick Cronin couldn’t have liked what he was seeing Thursday night.
There were plenty of reasons for Cronin to throw his remote control or consider changing the channel.
Star big man Adem Bona fouled out after playing only 13 minutes. The Bruins repeatedly gave up open three-pointers and struggled to execute everything they had worked on in practice.
It somehow got worse.
UCLA trailed by one point with 10 seconds left, putting the nation’s longest active home winning streak in jeopardy as the Bruins inbounded the ball underneath their basket.
Taking the pass and dribbling all the way to the edge of the paint, UCLA sophomore point guard Dylan Andrews proved to be the savior. He rose for a floating jumper that he banked in with 3.2 seconds left, giving his team the lead.
With one last chance, UC Riverside’s Barrington Hargress lost the ball before he could get a shot off near the three-point line. The Bruins had persevered for a 66-65 victory, giving their coach a get-well card while extending their home winning streak to 29 games.
— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) December 1, 2023
It was a painful victory. Literally.
UCLA freshman guard Sebastian Mack aggravated a toe injury just as Andrews’ shot was going into the basket and had to be helped off the court, leading to a subdued celebration for the Bruins (5-2). Freshman forward Berke Buyuktuncel had already departed late in the first half with an ankle injury of unknown severity.
UCLA associate head coach Darren Savino, subbing for his longtime friend and colleague, could finally exhale after Andrews’ heroics were not upstaged by the plucky Highlanders (3-5).
“We went to one of our plays, just a back screen,” Andrews said, “and then coach just told me, ‘Just make a play’ after that. We got what we wanted and we came up with the ‘W.’ ”
Eight days after the worst shooting performance of his college career, Andrews bounced back in a big way with 17 points while making seven of 12 shots, including three of eight from beyond the arc.
Those numbers were far more palatable than the two-for-15 showing Andrews put up in a loss to Gonzaga during the Maui Invitational.
Sophomore guard Will McClendon added 11 points while making three of four three-pointers, shooting with confidence a year after he went a dreadful two of 28 from long range. Two of his three-pointers came in a span of less than two minutes late in the second half, preventing a collapse by the Bruins.
“This whole off-season, I've been really working on getting my shot right,” said McClendon, who has made eight of 19 three-pointers (42.1%). “Last year, it didn't go the way I wanted it to. So I mean, every day I'm just feeling good about my shot and it showed [Thursday].”
Providing a humongous spark with his intensity before his departure, Buyuktuncel immediately signaled to the bench that he needed to come out when he went down with his injury. Buyuktuncel tried to limp off the court but couldn’t, taking a seat before requiring help to reach the trainer’s table.
He contributed in a variety of ways in his 10 minutes, scoring six points, grabbing three offensive rebounds and taking two charges while partially offsetting another disappointing performance from Bona, who had four points and four rebounds to go with four turnovers.
Savino made a half-joking face-palm gesture when asked about Bona’s struggles.
“I love him, I want to hug him, you know?” Savino said. “He’s just such a good guy and he tries so hard. The talks, the film, all the stuff, you know — you can’t make dumb fouls, you can’t make over-the-backs and illegal screens. … I don’t know what else to say other than he’s gotta just slow down, relax and he can’t get those fouls.”
Isaiah Moses had 21 points for UC Riverside, which stayed in the game largely on the strength of making 14 of 32 three-pointers.
Savino said Cronin scouted the game as usual despite his illness, corresponding with his assistant about things the team needed to do to avoid the upset. The Bruins did barely any of them, reminding Savino about the benefits of not being in charge.
“You’re an assistant coach and you think you have all the answers,” Savino said, “and then when you sit up there and you’re trying to run things and do things and it doesn’t work and it’s like, now I know how the head coach feels because we did not execute a lot of the things that we worked on for three straight days.”
In the good news department for the Bruins, they don’t play again until facing No. 18 Villanova on Dec. 9 in Philadelphia, potentially giving them enough time to get back their coach in addition to Buyuktuncel and Mack.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.