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UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin talked the reporters about the Bruins’ upcoming game against Colorado, the team’s mission to improve on defense and what he thinks of the 20-game Pac-12 schedule.

MICK CRONIN

Good defensive-oriented practices carry over to UNLV game?

Yeah, I think there’s no doubt that performance in a game is a result of your preparation, so I thought we had great preparation by the coaching staff, the players focused and it carried over 100% to our defensive performance in the UNLV game, no doubt about it.

Effort to slow pace?

No. I think that they, when you play really good defense what happens is, it takes the other team a longer time to find a shot, hence the less possessions. That’s a result of playing better defense. A lot of possessions when the other team’s shooting layups, they just dribble down, pass and shoot a layup—a lot more possessions that way, but that’s really the result of that, unless you’re going to play a team that’s just going to shoot it fast regardless, which they’re not, you know, Kevin does a good job coaching them. They were trying and trying and trying to find a good shot and they couldn’t find a good one early against us, so they spent a lot more time on offense, not that we were slowing the game down. Their inability to get an open shot against us made less possessions in a game.

Jaime OK?

Yeah. I mean, Jaime’s, you’d have to probably get a foreign object involved to knock him out, you know, he’s amazing. I think he got a little bit of a headache—five stitches, but other than that. A lot of guys, they’d be out two weeks with that. But Jaime missed the first minute of the second half because he was yelling at them to hurry up with the stitches.

Two guys down from Myles Johnson's elbow now?

You’ve got to watch out for Myles’ elbows, everybody but me because I’d just go right under them.

Colorado thoughts?

Same as usual – very high-execution team, always very well coached. They’re bigger than us at almost every position other than Myles and Kenny at the five, one through four, they’re taller than we are. I think they’re third in the nation – usually you guys come in with stats –in free throw attempts and they’re always really high every year. They do a great job of attacking the basket, putting pressure on the rim and offensive rebounding, so they’re not quick to shoot a three, they’re going to run their offense, execute and get the ball at the rim on you, that’s why they get fouled so much.

Changes in Colorado's offense without McKinley Wright?

Still searching, I think, in fairness to them. They had some close calls early. It’s an adjustment when you lose a guy that dominates the ball as much as McKinley dominated the ball in his career there and it’s smart to put the ball in his hands, but I like Bartholomew, he’s a good player, can make open shots, he’s only going to get better, so they’re just going through an adjustment period but they played really well against Stanford offensively. Stanford’s a big team that always defends with great size and they put 80 on them, so you can definitely see them changing from early on when you watch their film because they’re much more efficient offensively.

Assessment on small ball lineup with Clark at the five?

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I think you have to be able to do that because some games, I’m a big believer, some games call for adjustments. I’m not a believer in ‘my way’—my way is to win and if you’ve got to play small to win, you’ve got to play small to win, you’ve got to do whatever you’ve got to do to win, so you saw UNLV went small, so we went small. They couldn’t get anything off their offense, so they just went to a spread, dribble drive, so we just went small to defend it. I think you have to be able to do that, that’s why you have to be able to defend a guy like Jaylen Clark, a versatile player like that that can play bigger in a small lineup, that can switch everything and stay in front of the basketball. We don’t practice a lot that way, so I’m coaching on the fly trying to get guys in the right spot on offense, you can see, and Jaylen doesn’t run around playing the five in practice, so that’s an adjustment for us, but when we do that, throwing him or Jaime the ball in the post and spreading our shooters out is probably something that you’ll see more when we have to do that, but you get in Pac-12 play, there’s not many teams that are going to go that small on you, especially Colorado, that won’t happen.

What makes Clark able to guard up the way he does?

When you combine his size and athleticism with his heart and toughness, it becomes a Draymond Green effect. That’s what makes him such a valuable player.

Concerns defensively against Colorado's size without Cody Riley?

Yeah, he won’t play Wednesday. Yeah, Jaime’s foul trouble, our foul trouble on the interior because Jabari Walker was a talented, athletic guy that could make a shot but this year he’s posting up quite a bit and he doesn’t fade away—power shots, he’s added at least 15 pounds of muscle, I don’t really know, I’d have to look at all their media stuff, but it's obvious he’s playing with a lot more strength around the rim, so nowadays, almost everybody, Jaime’s guarding more of a face-up player except in a game like this, he’s got to guard a post-up player or when you play another team like USC he’d have to guard a post-up player, so that’s a concern, foul trouble, for sure.

Talked a lot about qualities that help teams win on the road but what are the qualities that define a team that wins at home?

You don’t lose at home. If you want a high seed in the NCAA tournament or you want to win your conference, you have to win your home games. If you’re able to go undefeated at home and split on the road—you’ve only got nine or 10 and you’ve got your neutrals—you’re going to make the NCAA tournament every year, so in a program like UCLA, our goal is to go undefeated at home every season; you have to go undefeated at home and at home, to your point, you have to be able to make teams feel like they’re playing on the road with your intensity, with your pressure, how hard you play, getting your crowd into the game with you effort and your hustle, so that’s what really gives you the homecourt advantage.

Singleton more athletic, dunking on fast breaks and layup lines?

I guess so, I guess it's fun for you guys. Dunking in layup lines, not a big thing on my radar. I'm more concerned with his defense on the ball, and that's where his athleticism is important. Becoming a better athlete for David in his career and for our team is him being able to defend the ball. Him, Johnny and Jake. Right now, that's the biggest thing. Peyton getting to the point where he can be a better on-the-ball defender. For us to be a good defensive team, A. you gotta have team defense, but if you're always in help, you're gonna struggle. And it's no secret people try to attack David when he gets in, Jake when he gets in, Johnny, and that's an area they try to attack us. So that's my concern with David's athleticism, his lateral quickness, stuff that matters in a basketball game. I wasn't bad in layup lines.

How do you like 20-game Pac-12 schedule starting in December?

Um, well, I don't mind playing the quality games in December, but you and I can do a separate article on that someday, Ben. My short answer would be I think that what you saw last week with all the high-level non-league games is what we need to start going more towards to create more interest in college basketball. So I would be a proponent of all the Power Five to play 18 or 16, but to play – instead of being forced into the Gavitt games where the Big East plays the Big Ten or being forced into the Pac-12 versus – I think we should all have maybe like a pact where we're all gonna play four or five. And not neutral, you're gonna play four home-and-homes versus Power Five teams. Everybody almost has to do it. Combined in the neutral – I just think that we have to assess our product if you want to be able to carve out marketplace, branding, attention on college basketball, you gotta play the games that were played last week. We played two already, we still gotta go to Marquette, which I'm sure will be a sellout, obviously still got North Carolina. I think it's better for college basketball, it brings more national interest than another Pac-12 conference game. I know the answer was – the reasoning behind it was TV deals, they wanted more league games cause they wanted more quality games. So TV was the reason people started going to 20, I don't know if you guys know that, that's why, TV contracts. But if TV knows that instead, you're gonna play 16 plus you're gonna play four, two home, two road against other high, other Power Five teams and they get those rights, I think it will be more interesting and I think that's what we need to do, look at the powers that be in our sports need to look at every possible way to make, to create interest in our sport in November and December. We can't just be a sports about March Madness. I think that would be an interesting way to do it.

What would more Nov/Dec interest do for college basketball?

Gotta play qual – it helps your TV ratings, helps your ticket sales, all of the above. So times change, you're fighting for your market share. It's like any other business, you can't – the death of every business is to say 'Well, this is how we've always done it here.' So I can name a few of those that are out of business.

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