LOS ANGELES (AP) — UCLA’s basketball team put on a defensive clinic for the first 10 minutes of its game against Southern Utah.
It had steals, blocked shots, deflections and more. UCLA coach Mick Cronin hopes he can get the Bruins to play that way for an entire game and then he might have something.
Chris Smith scored 20 points and Jalen Hill added 17 points to lead UCLA to a 76-61 win over Southern Utah on Monday night.
The Bruins remain undefeated, all four wins coming at home.
“We have to play 40 minutes the right way all the time,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “We have a lot of growth to do.”
UCLA built an early 17-3 lead behind an impressive defense and Southern Utah went 8½ minutes without a field goal during that stretch. The Bruins extended that lead to 25-6. It was the next 30 minutes that UCLA was never in danger of losing the game but didn’t put the Thunderbirds away, either.
“We still haven’t scratched the surface,” Smith said. “As we showed in the first 10 minutes or so, when our defense is locked in, we’re helping each other and talking to each other, we make teams look like they can’t score. Six points in 10 minutes, our defense was extra on point. Our offense is getting better. We’ve got a lot to get better at.”
UCLA had 11 steals and 10 blocked shots and 42 deflections. Much of that good work came from the game’s start. Cronin’s mind was on the work to get his team to play more consistently on the defensive end. UCLA also had 15 turnovers.
“We were sloppy,” Cronin said. “I’ve got to get the job done with our team as far as the way we take care of the basketball if we want to have a chance to be a good team. I told the guys I’ve coached a lot of teams that went to the NCAA Tournament simply because we didn’t turn the ball over.”
John Knight III led the Thunderbirds (2-2) with 14 points.
This was the first meeting between the schools.
For Southern Utah, Dre Marin made a 3-pointer from the corner with 10:44 left in the first half to end the scoring drought and cut the lead to 17-6. Southern Utah (2-2) trailed 35-22 at halftime.
“We dug ourselves a deep hole by starting the game with turnovers,” Southern Utah coach Todd Simon said. “We really coughed the ball up a lot. When you start that poorly, it aways makes playing behind ready tough. We will rectify this. I think it’s also the game schedule. We may have a little bit of road-weariness.”
Southern Utah: The Thunderbirds weren’t able to run offensive sets like they wanted, but the experience playing UCLA at Pauley Pavilion will surely pay dividends later.
UCLA: The Bruins defense was stifling and that led to plenty of transition baskets. The game was a campus game for the Maui Invitational.
MILESTONE FOR O’NEAL
In the second half, Shareef O’Neal made a 3-pointer from the right wing for the first points of his UCLA career. He finished with five points, three rebounds and one block in 16 minutes. O’Neal, the son of Shaquille O’Neal, had missed the two previous games due to a hip injury and sat out last season because of open-heart surgery last December.
Cronin was searching for consistency Monday after his team’s hot start and lackluster following 30 minutes. It was an effort that was plenty enough to win but not to Cronin’s liking.
“We’re nowhere near the machine we need to become,” Cronin said. “I look at teams like Alabama and Clemson and the Patriots, and they’re just machines. We’ve got to become a machine. Never look at the scoreboard. You’ve got to play 40 minutes the right way all the time.”
Southern Utah: Plays Charleston Southern in the Maui Invitational at Johnson City, Tennessee on Saturday.
UCLA: Hosts Hofstra on Thursday.
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