Men’s basketball to face Golden Bears in battle of lowest-ranked Pac-12 teams
UCLA men’s basketball has lost six of its last seven games, something it hasn’t done in the regular season since the 2009-2010 campaign. Redshirt sophomore forward/center Jalen Hill (left) was scoreless in 11 minutes when he played against coach Mick Cronin’s (right) then-Cincinnati squad Dec. 19, 2018. (Amy Dixon/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Sunday, 5 p.m.
By Sam Connon
Jan. 17, 2020 12:28 p.m.
Only one Pac-12 team dwells below the Bruins in the NET rankings.
UCLA men’s basketball (8-9, 1-3 Pac-12) will host California (8-9, 2-2) at Pauley Pavilion on Sunday. The NET rankings – a national ranking tool based on game results, overall efficiency, strength of schedule and more – slot the Bruins in at No. 151 and the Golden Bears at No. 153.
Cal and UCLA are the third- and fourth-lowest ranked Power Five programs in the country, ahead of only Nebraska and Boston College.
And while the Bruins and Bears are side-by-side well outside the top-100, UCLA’s players entered college ball with significantly higher high school reputations than Cal’s.
Cal’s highest-ranked prospect on its active roster is former 114th-ranked recruit guard Matt Bradley. Meanwhile, UCLA boasts eight former top-100 recruits, and its average recruit rank among players with at least 10 minutes per game is 116.3 compared to Cal’s 197.5.
Despite the gap, coach Mick Cronin said he didn’t care about the recruiting rankings after UCLA’s most recent loss to Stanford – which owns an average recruit rank of 181, sandwiched between UCLA and Cal.
And even with its lower recruitment rankings, the Cardinal head the Pac-12 with an undefeated conference record and 15-2 mark overall.
“(The loss) should prove to (the media) that the recruiting rankings are about as important as what’s in the garbage can,” Cronin said.
The bigger issue on Cronin’s mind following the Bruins’ sixth loss in their last seven outings was their defensive performance.
During that span, UCLA allowed 73.9 points per game, and the first-year coach singled out redshirt seniors guard Prince Ali and forward Alex Olesinski as weak links in the defense despite their age.
“Our older guys are bad defensive players, which is really ridiculous because it’s not like they didn’t do scouting reports before me,” Cronin said. “If you’re in your fifth year, you should know how to play defense by now.”
UCLA trailed 33-31 at the half against both USC and Stanford, only to eventually lose by double digits both times. When redshirt sophomore forward/center Jalen Hill was asked to explain what has gone wrong in each of the second halves, he said he didn’t have an explanation.
“If I knew (the solution), then we wouldn’t be having this problem,” Hill said. “We wouldn’t be 8-9 and 1-3 in conference. It’s tough right now. It’s really tough.”
Hill’s team-leading 7.4 rebounds per game is more than any Golden Bear, and the Bruins will enter Sunday’s contest out-rebounding the Bears by an average 5.2 boards per night.
Only two Bears scored more than six points against the Trojans on Thursday in the team’s eventual 32-point loss. But even against a bottom-tier opponent that struggles to score and rebound the ball, Cronin said his team may not have the mental makeup to win tightly contested conference games.
“Right now we just don’t have the fortitude, toughness, whatever you want to call it – we don’t have it,” Cronin said.