UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin is all about March – Daily News


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Selection Sunday is drawing closer, and clearly, it’s not too soon to talk about March. Despite the wackiness of the 2020-21 season, we’re four weeks away from a March of madness the country was robbed of a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic started.

In the past week, UCLA coach Mick Cronin has started to speak about March, too.

“We should be motivated to play, regardless,” said Cronin ahead of USC’s rivalry game, when asked if the team is motivated from last year’s buzzer-beating loss at the Galen Center. “We have a lot to play for. We’re trying to win the conference and get an NCAA Tournament bid.”

UCLA (13-4, 9-2) has seven games left on its regular-season schedule, including Thursday’s game at Washington State (11-8, 4-8) at 8 p.m. on FS1.

The Bruins will take on Washington on Saturday, then host Arizona (Feb. 18) and Arizona State (Feb. 20), followed by a pair of games on the road at Utah (Feb. 25) and Colorado (Feb. 27). The season finale will be against USC on March 6 at Pauley Pavilion on CBS before the Pac-12 tournament begins March 10 in Las Vegas.

As UCLA sits atop the conference tied with USC, Cronin has started to mention March more frequently to the media and the team. Cronin said he mentioned the NCAA Tournament to his team down 12 against USC in Saturday night’s loss.

“If we get a chance to get to the tournament, to stay alive we’re probably going to have to make a comeback,” Cronin recalled saying in the huddle. “So, we have to practice now … not hanging our head, not looking at the scoreboard and playing every play like it’s the only one that matters.”

As tournament time approaches, the Bruins will look to hit a stride that can give them momentum into March. It won’t come without challenges, though. Forward Cody Riley is day-to-day with a right ankle injury, and center Jalen Hill, the team’s longest, most athletic inside presence, is away from the team due to “personal reasons,” according to Cronin.

When asked about Hill’s return to the team in any capacity, Cronin’s response was quick and abrupt: “I have no idea.”

Hill will not be with the team in Washington.

Riley and Hill were out against USC, which gave way to freshman forward Mac Etienne. Even with Etienne, who made his impressive collegiate debut this past weekend, Cronin is thinking about March, especially with Hill’s role in question.

“The one thing you don’t have to worry about with Mac is his effort,” Cronin said. “He’s got touch, he can score – he’s learning as a defender. That’s the point in playing him now, getting him ready for March.”

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