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UCLA men’s basketball suffers consequences of lackluster offense

UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin coaches from the sideline during his team’s loss to USC on Thursday. The Bruins have lost two straight games after stringing together 14 consecutive wins. (David Rimer/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Bryan Palmero

Jan. 29, 2023 10:48 p.m.

Coach Mick Cronin has built a reputation for his emphasis on deflections and full-court ferocity in post-game press conferences.

Defense wins championships, but Thursday night forced the fourth-year coach to acknowledge the Bruins’ shortcomings on the other end.

“We’re no juggernaut,” coach Cronin said.

On Thursday at the Galen Center, No. 8 UCLA men’s basketball lost another rivalry matchup under the Cronin era, its fifth straight defeat to USC on the road. Now on a two-game skid following a 14-game winning streak, the Bruins know their offensive struggles can no longer hide behind the guise of victory.

“They (USC) were more physical than us, got us out of our offense,” said fifth-year guard David Singleton.

[Related: UCLA men’s basketball falls to crosstown rival USC in 2nd-half blunder]

Holding the Trojans scoreless during a pair of double-digit runs, the Bruins’ defense raced to a commanding 12-point halftime lead.

But that advantage didn’t last for long.

Adjusting at the break, USC slowed down redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell, swarming his drives by crowding the paint. Campbell followed his 10-point first half with zero made field goals in the second.

After halftime, freshman forward Adem Bona only mustered a single point and missed his lone field goal attempt, on top of two game-swaying turnovers, according to Cronin.

Meanwhile, Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jaylen Clark tallied three steals Thursday, but the junior guard also missed all seven of his field goal attempts, with Cronin lamenting his poor shot selection.

“He’s not playing well,” Cronin said. “He’s got to stop shooting the ball with one hand.”

Clark only saw the court for 11 minutes in the second half with Cronin pointing to his defensive stopper’s offensive woes even as the Trojans built up a 52-27 run.

In back-to-back rivalry games, and multiple contests in between, the Bruin offense has yet again fallen apart after halftime. UCLA has shot under 40% from the field in consecutive games for the first time all year, connecting at a 31.3% clip against then-No. 11 Arizona and 35.7% clip against USC.

Posting a +11.4 second-half point differential in January against non-USC opponents, UCLA has been outscored by 41 points at the hands of its crosstown rival after the break this season.

The blue and gold was outscored and out-toughed, according to senior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr., as the Bruins coughed up more turnovers than the Trojans on Thursday.

“In the second half, we didn’t come ready, sort of like the game at home,” Jaquez said. “When that happens, I mean, you can’t expect a different result than what happened tonight.”

Now, Jaquez and Campbell will likely end their blue and gold careers without a win at the Galen Center.

[Related: UCLA men’s basketball edges out rival USC with nail-biting victory]

Following freshman guard Amari Bailey’s return to the lineup after a foot injury sidelined him for seven games, Singleton will likely return to his coveted sixth-man role. After starting in Bailey’s place, the fifth-year guard and his career-high 10.4 points per game will look to bolster a Bruin bench in dire need of an offensive identity midway through Pac-12 play.

With a two-game homestand against Washington on Thursday and Washington State on Saturday, Singleton said he realizes he’ll be relied on to do precisely that.

“I have to be the one to step up,” Singleton said.

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Bryan Palmero | Daily Bruin senior staff
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a Sports reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student.
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a Sports reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student.
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