Cronin wins UCLA debut as Bruins rally past Long Beach State
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mick Cronin’s debut as UCLA’s coach wasn’t pretty by any means, but he wasn’t expecting a walk in the park Tuesday night against Long Beach State.
The Bruins trailed for most of the game before taking control over the last five minutes of the second half and rallying for a 69-65 victory at Pauley Pavilion.
“If you can be in a dogfight and win, you get a lot more out of it than if you’re blowing some team out that can’t play basketball with you at home,” said Cronin, who was named UCLA’s coach in April after 13 seasons at Cincinnati.
Long Beach State was up 56-50 after Michael Carter III’s layup with 5:39 remaining before the Bruins outscored them 19-9 the rest of the way. UCLA took the lead on the strength of a 13-2 run where five players ended up scoring.
Carter III’s 3-pointer drew the Beach within 65-62 with 36.9 seconds remaining. David Singleton made the first of two free throws to extend the margin to four before Smith blocked a Carter III layup attempt and grabbed the rebound.
The Bruins were 21 of 53 from the field, including 5 of 19 on 3-pointers, but they outrebounded the Beach by nine and committed only four turnovers in the second half after having 10 in the first.
“If we don’t turn the ball over, we’ve got a chance to be a decent offensive team. I think we got a lot of guys nervous when it comes to shooting the ball, but that’s to be expected,” Cronin said.
Tyger Campbell led UCLA with 15 points. The redshirt freshman guard was playing in his first game after missing last year due to a preseason knee injury.
Cody Riley added 14 points and Smith had 13 points and eight rebounds.
“We saw a lot of resilience, a team that was hungry and guys that just wanted to win,” said Ali, who finished with 10 points. “When you’ve got that, it always gives you a chance to win, and that’s why we got the W tonight.”
Carter III scored 20 and Chance Hunter 19 for Long Beach State, which made nine 3-pointers. Hunter and Carter each hit four from long distance.
Long Beach jumped out to a 16-7 lead with 12:36 remaining in the first half on three straight 3-pointers by Hunter. The Beach remained in the lead for most of the first half before the Bruins went on a 7-2 rally, capped off by Jalen Hill’s layup with 3:07 remaining to give them a 27-26 lead.
Long Beach closed out the half with seven straight points to take a 33-27 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
“I felt like we had UCLA off balance, but those last two minutes we couldn’t take advantage of them,” Long Beach coach Dan Monson said.
Long Beach State: The Beach has nine newcomers and just four returning players but looked like the more veteran team than the Bruins, who have 13 returning players.
“We played six players who have never scored a point here and have never scored a point in a college game. I was pleased overall, but I feel the pain for these guys that we couldn’t close out the contest,” Monson said.
UCLA: Cronin is the eighth of the 11 coaches since John Wooden to win his Bruins debut. He wasn’t sentimental after the game because his team remains a work in progress.
“We’re still nowhere near where we need to be, defensively because we’ve got to be a great defensive rebounding team early on until we can get all the young guys comfortable, and get some cohesiveness on the offensive end,” he said.
UCLA’s Shareef O’Neal was scoreless in six minutes in his first collegiate game. The redshirt freshman, the son of Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, missed last season after recovering from heart surgery in December.
O’Neal did have a steal shortly after entering the game in the first half but missed a 3-pointer on the ensuing trip down the floor. He was 0 for 3 from the field and had three rebounds.
Long Beach: Hosts San Diego on Saturday.
UCLA: Hosts UC Santa Barbara on Sunday.