Selection Sunday is approaching and it is clear that it is not too early to talk about March. Despite the craziness of the 2020-21 season, we are four weeks away from an insane march that was robbed the country a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Last week, UCLA coach Mick Cronin started talking about March as well.
« We should still be motivated to play, » Cronin said ahead of the USC rivalry game when asked if the team was motivated by their defeat at the Galen Center last year. “We have a lot to play. We’re trying to win the conference and get an offer for an NCAA tournament. «
UCLA (13-4, 9-2) has seven games left on their regular season schedule, including Thursday’s game in Washington State (11-8, 4-8) at 8:00 pm. on FS1.
The Bruins face Washington on Saturday, then Arizona (February 18) and Arizona State (February 20), followed by two street games in Utah (February 25) and Colorado (February 27) ). The season finale will be played against USC at the Pauley Pavilion on CBS on March 6, before the Pac-12 tournament begins on March 10 in Las Vegas.
As UCLA sits at the USC-affiliated conference, Cronin has started giving March more prominently to the media and the team. Cronin said he mentioned the NCAA tournament to his team, which lost to USC 12 against USC on Saturday night.
« If we get the chance to get to the tournament to stay alive, we may have to make a comeback, » Cronin recalled in the crowd. « So now we have to practice … don’t hang your head, look at the scoreboard and play every game like it’s the only thing that matters. »
As tournament time approaches, the Bruins will try to take a step that can keep them going well into March. It won’t come without challenges, however. Striker Cody Riley suffers from a right ankle injury on a daily basis, and Center Jalen Hill, the team’s longest and most athletic presence, is off the team for « personal reasons », according to Cronin.
When asked about Hill’s return to the team in some form, Cronin replied quickly and abruptly, « I have no idea. »
Riley and Hill were up against USC, making way for newcomer Mac Etienne. Even with Etienne, who made his formidable college debut last weekend, Cronin is pondering March, particularly the role of Hill in question.
« The only thing you don’t have to worry about with Mac is its effort, » said Cronin. « He’s in contact, he can score – he’s learning to defend. That’s the point to play him now and prepare him for March. »
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UCLA’s external defense not only has to be understaffed and inexperienced on the forecourt, it also needs to be improved. USC security guard Ethan Anderson hit a career high of 19 points over the weekend, and Washington State’s Isaac Bonton will be another test for the Bruins. Bonton had 23 points in UCLA’s win over the Cougars on January 14, and is third in the conference averaging 18.1 points per game.
« This is just life in the Pac-12. There will always be guards on the other team who can come up with the numbers, » said Cronin.
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