Mick Cronin has plenty of film of his teams playing Gonzaga.
A few seconds aren’t approved for all audiences.
Rewatching UCLA’s 2021 Final Four loss on Monday night, the Bruins coach hit pause as soon as Johnny Juzang’s putback tied the score with 3.3 seconds left in overtime.
There was no need to relive what happened next.
“What the hell do I need to watch that for?” Cronin said Tuesday afternoon. “You think I’m a masochist?”
Fortunately for the Bruins, Jalen Suggs is no longer around to bank in 40-footers at the buzzer, having moved on to the NBA. The same goes for onetime Zags stars Andrew Nembhard and Corey Kispert. Even Chet Holmgren, the one-and-done phenom who tormented the Bruins last season in Las Vegas, has moved on.
There’s still that irritating big man, Drew Timme, who strokes his mustache after every big play. Gonzaga’s 6-foot-10 All-American figures to be the centerpiece of second-seeded UCLA’s game plan when it faces the third-seeded Zags on Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena in a West Region semifinal.
“He’s a guy that can always take over a game,” Cronin said. “You can have him in check for 30 minutes, then he can dominate the last 10; he’s just that kinda guy. He’s been doing it for a long time; not an easy guy to deal with. Puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
The big question: Who is going to play that defense? UCLA’s Adem Bona aggravated his shoulder injury in the second half against Northwestern last weekend, clutching the area immediately after he absorbed contact on a contested dunk in the second half.
Bona departed for two minutes before returning to make the defensive play of the game. He blocked a driving layup by Wildcats guard Chase Audige, sparking a fastbreak that ended with David Singleton draining a three-pointer to put the Bruins ahead 62-56 with 1:52 left.
Singleton had to be helped off the court after rolling an ankle with 20 seconds left, also leaving his status in doubt.
Known for his defense, Cronin played information lockdown Tuesday when a reporter asked for updates on Bona and Singleton.
“Both great guys, that’s all I gotta say on that,” Cronin said. “We’ll see. Everybody’s day-to-day, including me — and you.”
Singleton walked without a limp on his way to the team bus and Bona moved his left arm freely, using it to scratch his head as he walked toward the practice facility.
The absence of either player would severely compromise the depth of a team already missing its top defender since Jaylen Clark suffered a lower-leg injury in the final regular-season game.
“No time to cry,” Cronin said. “There’s always a way to win a game, so we’ve got to make sure we’re preparing to find a way to win no matter who plays or doesn’t play.”
UCLA split its first two games after Bona hurt his shoulder against Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament, nearly knocking off Arizona the next day before routing North Carolina Asheville in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Backup big men Kenneth Nwuba and Mac Etienne came up big in the latter game, combining for 20 points, six rebounds and three blocks while making all nine shots.
It was all great fun against a team from the Big South Conference, one fan going so far as to post a Twitter meme of Nwuba alongside UCLA greats Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.
Thursday presents a different challenge. Timme is a national-player-of-the-year candidate who dropped 28 points on Texas Christian in the second round amid a series of pump fakes and drop steps.
Whoever defends Timme will need to avoid being duped into unnecessary contact.
“It’s the hardest thing to do is prepare for a guy that puts the pressure on the officials every time he’s in the low post,” Cronin said, “so you’ve got to be able to defend without fouling, which is really hard with the way he plays.”
If Bona is unable to play, Cronin could have senior forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. defend Timme despite a three-inch height disadvantage. Jaquez guarded Asheville’s Drew Pember in the first round, holding the 6-11 forward to 13 points on four-for-eight shooting, but Pember is not nearly as skilled around the basket as Timme.
From the moment he stepped on campus, Bona has been the Bruins’ best interior defender. Combining elite athleticism with a 7-4 wingspan that’s the longest on the team, Bona blocked scads of shots, altered many others and undoubtedly prevented some from being taken on the way to being selected the Pac-12 freshman of the year.
Bona’s averages of 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game don’t capture his ability to erase teammates’ defensive mistakes and buoy them with his relentless energy.
The Bruins hope he doesn’t join Clark as their biggest fans in their biggest game, cheering from the bench.