INDIANAPOLIS – Twitter is expecting no one, and nothing, not even the five-minute basketball overtime. And that explains why UCLA coach Mick Cronin has come under as much criticism for the most important victory in his two-decade career as any of the games he has lost along the way.
There were 4.1 seconds left when Bruins junior reserve David Singleton, who had scored just 10 combined points in three games of the NCAA tournament, made straight free throws to put his team ahead of Alabama by three. NCAA Eastern Region semi-final points. The only thing that could keep the Bruins from the Elite Eight would be a 3-pointer that beats the buzzer and a calamitous overtime.
The obvious decision here is to ask the Bruins to foul on purpose and stop one of the Alabama players from attempting a 3-point shot.
Isn’t that right, guys?
Big game; nice shot. But this one is on Mick Cronin. Foul 3!
– Chris Yates (@ CPY87) March 29, 2021
Imagine having the chance to make a mistake easily before the shot, and not to foul
– Springy Heaterson (@LockyLockerson) March 29, 2021
Don’t let UCLA win this game distract from the fact that Mick Cronin didn’t foul 3 against an 11 of 25 team from the free throw line. Scandalous.
– Jake Winfrey (@winfreyjake) March 29, 2021
Here’s the really weird thing about what happened on Sunday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse: Cronin agrees.
“I’m a bad guy,” he told reporters after the Bruins dominated overtime to escape the next round of March Madness – their first Elite Eight since 2008 – with an 88-78 victory over the Crimson Tide.
What he meant is that he prefers to ask his players, in this situation, to commit the intentional foul and send the opposing team to the free throw line to avoid the opponent’s attempts. to tie at 3 points.
In this case, however, he knew Alabama coach Nate Oats had seen him tell his players to foul. And when Oats subsequently called timeout, he began to fear that Oats would use that break to ask his players to immediately shoot the ball towards the goal if a Bruin got close to the foul, which could lead to three free throws for a foul in the act of shooting a 3.
“The NBA, they don’t fault for that reason,” Cronin said. “The pro guys are really smart. So we thought in four seconds… if we just do a spin and choke that side of the floor, we steal that pass and they don’t even make that shot.
“Obviously the kids saved me. They played really well in overtime.”
Cronin later said the Bruins played as well as a team could play in OT, and while that sounds hyperbolic, it’s hard to dispute. They scored 23 points in five minutes. Taken at its absurd but mathematically correct conclusion, that’s a 184-point pace for a regulation college basketball game.
And yet, it was mainly the defense that won the game. It wasn’t a Mick Cronin D prototype. In Cincinnati, he coached six straight top-20 defenses. This UCLA team is ranked 56th. But that’s a massive improvement in the years leading up to his arrival, when four back-to-back Bruins teams placed 85th or worse.
“I think that’s a big part of who he is,” UCLA wing Jaime Jacquez told reporters. “He affects us all that way. He brings out the best in all of us. So when we go to play there he screams and screams with us. He’s been through it all with us. I couldn’t ask for better. Coach college basketball. “
Ruggedness has become an integral part of UCLA culture. It was not negotiable for Cronin, and this game would have been impossible to win without him. Especially without winger Chris Smith, who injured his knee in December, and forward Jalen Hill, who left for personal reasons, this is not a dynamic field. There was always an emphasis among the Bruins that Alabama, let alone their electric quickness, couldn’t gain comfort in their offense, especially along the 3-point line. The Tide gets a greater percentage of their points out of 3 points than any team in Division I. That night they were 7 out of 28.
“You can plan the game to defend the 3,” Cronin said, “but when that ball comes out of the rim and it’s in the air and on the ground, you can’t let the other team want to win more than you. And our guys did. “
Talent Alabama point guard Jahvon Quinerly scored 20 points but needed 22 shots to get there. Especially late in the game, UCLA center Cody Riley excelled at handling Quinerly on switches and blocking his shot as he tried to sweep left-handed layups. Jacquez took a firm stand against All-America forward Herbert Jones, who only managed a half-dozen shots for eight points and was just 2 of 7 on free throws.
“We weren’t good enough to beat them tonight. They were better,” Oats said. “They hit some hard shots… They went to the line and made their free throws and got saves when they needed them. They sure could have – we had all the momentum in overtime. They could have been able to. lie down. They didn’t., sort of punched us in the mouth to start overtime. “
It was Singleton’s right hand that Tide tasted. He had been trying really hard to win the game for the Bruins in regulation, but when it didn’t steal he went ahead and got them started in OT. He got a 3 point just 18 seconds into the extra period and almost two minutes later his base jumper gave him a seven point lead. Singleton is a 17-minute player but shoots 47 percent on 3 points. With winger Johnny Juzang disqualified for foul, Singleton played 20 minutes and tied his career with 15 points.
“Dave works so hard every day in training,” Jacquez told Sporting News. “We know what he’s capable of, and when his name was called out today he showed everyone what it was, and he’s a great player.”
It was UCLA’s third overtime game in the past six years, but it was like no other. Cronin told SN that even after the decision not to foul on the Tide backfired, there was a difference in the clique of what he saw after Jules Bernard missed a free throw. that could have sealed the opening of the team’s Pac-12 tournament against the State of Oregon.
“It was tough. When you’re in that situation, man, and it happens to you on the buzzer, you’ve got every reason to fold. Every reason to fold,” Cronin said. “These guys just refused to give in.
“You know me. You know how hard I tried to instill this will in them, where you just refuse to give in. Someone might beat you up, but you never let go and you never give in. So I give them away. kids all deserve it, man. “
He shouldn’t expect March Madness’s Twitter to dispute this, but he surely won’t verify. he has a lot to do to prepare for the Elite Eight.