Mick Cronin could be heard addressing his team after its game Sunday, and there was nothing unusual about that.
Except that he was two rooms over.
Multiple walls separating reporters from the interview room and UCLA’s locker room inside T-Mobile Arena — with a media work room sandwiched in between — were no match for the coach’s booming voice, which carried through the barriers to convey his feelings.
They weren’t pleasant.
His fury centered on the defense, which abandoned his team once again. A failure to get stops in the second half doomed the eighth-ranked Bruins to an 80-75 loss to fifth-ranked Baylor in the consolation game of the Continental Tire Main Event.
Two days after giving up 51 points in the second half of a loss to Illinois, UCLA (3-2) surrendered 43 points after halftime against the Bears (4-1).
“We’re not good enough to play to win this game — either game — defensively,” Cronin said when he finally met with reporters. “That’s my job. I’ve known it was coming.”
Cronin said it wasn’t just the five freshmen in his rotation who struggled, also mentioning fifth-year senior point guard Tyger Campbell among the culprits.
Everyone who tried to defend Baylor’s zippy guards LJ Cryer (28 points) and Adam Flagler (22) came up short. The duo combined to make eight of 16 three-pointers, including one by Cryer with 2 minutes 50 seconds left that was nearly a backbreaker after the Bruins had pulled within one point.
UCLA eventually had a chance to tie the score after forcing a shot-clock violation while down by three points, but Campbell’s pass into the post for freshman center Adem Bona was stolen by Flagler, who converted the turnover into a jumper with 18 seconds left to end the Bruins’ comeback hopes.
UCLA’s Jaylen Clark scored 17 of his 23 points in the first half with Jaime Jaquez Jr. in foul trouble before the Bruins went back to Jaquez as their primary offensive weapon in the second half. Jaquez scored 11 of his 15 points after halftime and Campbell finished the game with 12 points and six assists.
Offense wasn’t the issue. Cronin noted breakdowns everywhere, including one on an inbounds play coverage that had been in the scouting report that he repeated by yelling instructions. No matter. Baylor scored anyway.
“We’ve just got to go back home and lock in on the defensive end,” Clark said. “It’s not our talent, it’s our discipline at this point.”
Having ripped his players less than 48 hours earlier, Cronin was even less forgiving after their second consecutive setback completed a lost weekend for UCLA sports in which the football team also fell to USC in the final minutes at the Rose Bowl.
“I tell guys the truth; I’m not very popular in this era but I don’t care,” Cronin said. “The problem, to really give you a truthful answer, is they’ll be told that I’m the problem from their outer circle and that they’re all great players. That’s what they’ll be told, so ultimately you’ve got to recruit guys who do what they need to do to get better and win games like this — if you want to be a real program.
“But in our era of basketball, it’s OK whether you win, lose or draw for a lot of people; they could care less if we win, it’s all about is a guy getting his and his stats and things like that, so that’s the goal of coaching in this era, you’ve got to overcome it. The truth of it is, we’ve got good guys on the team and we’re just not good enough defensively right now to beat Baylor.”
Foul trouble in the game’s early going forced Cronin to expand his rotation and unearth a find in freshman guard Dylan Andrews.
After having played only three minutes Friday against Illinois, Andrews starred during his team’s 10-0 run that briefly pushed it into the lead. He unleashed a nifty Euro step on a layup, took a charge and threw a perfect bounce pass to Clark for a dunk in transition.
Andrews finished with seven points and two assists in 15 minutes, all career highs and about the only thing his team salvaged from its trip.
There is no shame in losing back-to-back games early in the season to nationally ranked teams; Baylor coach Scott Drew said all four participants in this event could make the Final Four.
For the moment, Cronin would settle for some serviceable defense.
“This is a long season,” Cronin said. “You know, who you are now is irrelevant to who you are in March, and I know these games matter for seeding but we’re going to find out what we’re made of. Right now, we’re not tough enough to get the job done on the defensive end.”