Revived U.C.L.A. Will Face Michigan for Ultimate 4 Berth

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Revived U.C.L.A. Will Face Michigan for Final Four Berth

UCLA has consistently chosen Plan B (or C or D) in its coaching searches.

Jim Harrick, who won the program’s last national championship in 1995, was awarded the contract after Jim Valvano and Larry Brown said no. Ben Howland, who led UCLA to three consecutive Final Fours, was hired after Rick Pitino, Roy Williams and Mike Montgomery could not be lured to Westwood. When Howland left and Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart couldn’t be sold, the Bruins chose Steve Alford.

It was no different when Alford was fired mid-season two years ago.

UCLA tracked and met with John Calipari several times, but he said no – a decision made easier by a 10-year extension of $ 86 million from Kentucky. There were talks with Jamie Dixon of Texas Christian and Rick Barnes of Tennessee, but none that produced a deal. The Bruins didn’t want to wait to chase Tony Bennett, who was in the middle of a championship run in Virginia.

After nearly 100 days of searching, UCLA picked Cronin, who had built a solid winner in Cincinnati, but who had little success in NCAA tournaments.

The rent itself was an interesting experiment. High school stars come to UCLA for a myriad of reasons – Hollywood access, the beach, connections. It’s a pleasant stopover for a rising star waiting for the NBA to call. Players rarely come to Westwood to play defense. For Cronin, however, the lure was obvious: if he came to UCLA, he would have the opportunity to recruit elite players.

Cronin picked up Johnny Juzang, who languished on the bench in Kentucky as a freshman last season but made several star turns at this year’s tournament. He added a five-star security guard, Daishen Nix, to bring him to the G League last summer. And he’s signed up Peyton Watson, a security guard from Long Beach Poly whose arrival will break a two-year streak that doesn’t see a McDonald’s American on UCLA’s list.

These are all players he would never have gotten in Cincinnati.

“If he’d gone to a gym before and saw Izzo, Self, and Roy, he’d have to go to another gym,” said Hep Cronin, referring to Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, Kansas Coach Bill Self, and North Carolina Coach Williams. “You can’t chase a bad hand. The only way to get into some of these people’s living rooms is through an underground tunnel. At UCLA, go through the front door. “

Last weekend, and now this time, Hep Cronin drove to Indianapolis from his home in Cincinnati. It is the first time since the pandemic began that he has seen his son and team in person. The way the Bruins played, with their newfound determination and discipline allowing them to make their skills shine, was his latest prospect well worth following.