The streak is over. The stink is spreading.
Bullied on its home court by Cal State Northridge on Tuesday night, UCLA was softer and sloppier than a fearless opponent from the Big West Conference.
The Bruins’ seasonlong offensive struggles, combined with unusually sagging defense, cost them against what was supposed to be a far lesser foe. The nation’s longest home winning streak ended at 29 games after the Matadors emerged with a 76-72 victory inside Pauley Pavilion.
“We’ve got a fragile group; it showed,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said, referring to having seven freshmen on his roster. “They’re older, more confident. You know, we don’t have anybody when things go bad to rally the troops.”
It was UCLA’s first home loss since a setback against Oregon in January 2022 and arguably its worst since a defeat against Cal State Fullerton in December 2019. For Northridge, it was a rare moment of glory in a series dominated by the Bruins, who had won nine of 10 previous meetings, their only other stumble coming in November 2000.
“CSUN, credit to them, man,” UCLA sophomore guard Dylan Andrews said after experiencing the first home loss of his college career. “They wanted it more than us.”
Once trailing by 19 points early in the second half, UCLA had its comeback hopes ended after Andrews buried a three-pointer to pull the Bruins (5-5) within 71-67 with 1:45 left. Northridge’s Dionte Bostick buried a turnaround jumper and UCLA’s Adem Bona missed two free throws on a night his team made only 23 of 35 and committed a season-worst 19 turnovers.
It was the sort of loss that makes one reevaluate everything.
Through the season’s first six weeks, UCLA could be characterized as a young team enduring early struggles against quality opponents.
That narrative no longer holds up.
Asked if he questioned the construction of a roster featuring so much youth, Cronin used a baseball free agency analogy while alluding to challenges facing his team in the name, image and likeness space, saying, “We did what we could do. Is your question, ‘Did we try to get older transfers?’ Absolutely. So did the [Cincinnati] Reds, but the Dodgers got them.”
Cronin also shouldered blame on a night his team gave up 17 layups and committed one turnover after another, going 0 for 2 when it came to the game plan.
“We failed as a coaching staff because when you have two points of emphasis,” Cronin said, “your job as a coaching staff is to make sure your team adheres to them.”
Nearly wiping out that huge deficit, the Bruins pulled within 57-56 on Sebastian Mack’s driving layup before the Matadors (8-3) delivered a massive counterpunch. Northridge guard Gianni Hunt’s three-pointer while falling down gave his team a 68-59 advantage with 5:18 left, and the Matadors made enough free throws the rest of the way.
It was Hunt’s first game as a Matador after taking advantage of an NCAA rule clearing the way for players who transferred twice to gain immediate eligibility. Hunt had started his career at Oregon State before spending last season at Sacramento State.
“Obviously, the NCAA, we don’t have any rules anymore,” Cronin said, “so we just let guys get eligible.”
Relentlessly attacking the basket, Mack finished with a career-high 27 points and Andrews added 20. But the Bruins shot 37% and unraveled after back-to-back possessions ending with Mack and Andrews losing the ball for turnovers. Bona (six turnovers) and Andrews (five) were the primary culprits on a night when their team was exceedingly careless.
Playing their first home game in 20 days, the Bruins had the rhythm of a team assembled from a hodgepodge of students at a rec center. They looked completely out of sorts in falling behind by 14 points at halftime.
“It was obviously a horrible first half for us,” said UCLA guard Lazar Stefanovic, who made only three of 14 shots for the game, “but I don’t know what was the reason.”
As if to underscore the urgency of the situation late in the first half, a fan in the upper reaches of Pauley Pavilion yelled, “Come on! It’s Cal State Northridge!”
Indeed it was. The Matadors showed exactly what they were about. So did the Bruins.
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