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Mick Cronin wants UCLA’s rebounding to fuel fast break

UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin is hard to please. Even after wins, he’s known for picking out something his Bruins could’ve done better.

After a 17-0 start at Stanford on Dec. 1, he didn’t like how the team’s stagnant offense let the Cardinal back in the game. In a hard-fought home win over Oregon, Cronin called for his team to be tougher, questioning his players’ willingness to take a charge.

After UCLA beat the Ducks earlier this month, Cronin praised Houston women’s volleyball player Kate Georgiades for diving headfirst into table and chairs to keep the ball in play.

“If I was in charge of the ESPYS, that would be Play of the Year,” Cronin said Dec. 4. “We showed the clip to our team before practice.”

It’s the trademark of a good coach. Always wanting more. But every so often, Cronin will praise his now 11th-ranked Bruins. He dished out the usual constructive criticism before giving high praise Wednesday morning when speaking with reporters.

“We’ve got to improve (rebounding) on the defensive backboard,” he said. “It will lead to our break, which is the best thing we do on offense. The numbers analytically. … it’s by far the best team I’ve ever had on the fast break. Probably because we got guys that can pass, finish and are more athletic.”

It could be an emphasis to keep an eye on as UCLA takes its first Pac-12 weekend trip to Washington where it will play Washington State at 8 p.m. Friday and the Washington Huskies on Sunday afternoon.

The Bruins (12-2, 2-0 Pac-12) lead the Pac-12 with 9.0 steals per game, which help them get out on the break where they average 12.23 points per game (4th in Pac-12), but Cronin wants better rebound numbers. UCLA is 10th in the conference in defensive rebounds per game (24.5).

What’s been making up for the lack of rebounding on the defensive glass is the defensive activity, and a stat that can’t be found in a box score or anywhere online: deflections, a stat the team tracks.

“For a team that doesn’t press much, we’re averaging almost 40 deflections a game,” Cronin said. “Statistics will tell you if you get 40 deflections, you’re going to win 95% of your games.”

NOTHING BUT PAC-12 AHEAD

Heading into the submergence of Pac-12 play for the rest of the season, UCLA’s most productive players are no surprise. Jaime Jaquez Jr. leads the team in scoring with 17.0 points per game and is pulling down the second-most rebounds (6.2) behind Jaylen Clark’s 6.7 per game.

Clark is scoring 15.7 points, Tyger Campbell is pouring in 13.3 points and David Singleton, who is a prime candidate for the Pac-12 Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year award, is scoring 10.1 points per game off the bench (only one start this season).

The freshmen have been impactful, too. Amari Bailey is averaging 9.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game and Adem Bona is contributing 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest. Dylan Andrews has seen action in all 13 games and Abramo Canka has played in 12.

“The learning curve coming from high school and now being at UCLA, where there are high goals and high expectations, I feel like I’ve learned a lot from the upperclassmen and trying to adjust my game,” said Bona in his first time speaking to the media Wednesday. “My concentration level has improved. It’s always been good, but at this level it has to be great.”

Bona, who came in as a 5-star recruit, hasn’t shocked the college basketball world with his numbers, but has shown glimpses of high-level play when it matters. He tallied 14 points and seven rebounds in just 23 minutes against Maryland.

“The Maryland and Kentucky games were where I got to show I’ve been learning and understanding what the team needs me to do,” Bona said.

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WORTH NOTING

The Bruins have not played at Washington State since Feb. 11, 2021, a game UCLA lost 81-73. Last season, UCLA won two games against Washington State – 76-56 at Pauley Pavilion and 75-65 result in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal round in Las Vegas.

No. 11 UCLA (11-2, 2-0 Pac-12) at Washington State (5-8, 0-2 Pac-12)

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Beasley Coliseum, Pullman, Wash.

TV/Radio: Pac-12 Network/AM 570

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