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Game day notes: First-year coach Mick Cronin has UCLA surging down the stretch

Extra notes on Lucas Siewert ahead of final CU Buffs home game

Evan Battey and the rest of the Colorado Buffaloes will need to crash the glass better against UCLA than they did in a Jan. 30 road loss against the Bruins. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Few teams are rebounding the basketball better in the Pac-12 Conference than UCLA. One team that has through much of the league schedule has been Colorado, but that certainly wasn’t the case when the teams met three weeks ago in Los Angeles.

The Buffs were “punked” on the boards by the Bruins, as head coach Tad Boyle described it this week. UCLA outrebounded CU 39-29 in a 72-68 Bruins victory. Fixing that shortcoming likely will be the key to Saturday’s rematch as the 18th-ranked Buffs seek a season split while slowing down one of the hottest teams in the league.

“Chris Smith had an unbelievable game against us last time. We have to do a better job on him, obviously. He’s a terrific player,” Boyle said. “UCLA is playing as well as any team in our league right now. You look at them and Arizona State. Not that we’re not playing well, but I just feel like UCLA, they’ve turned a corner. You can see it in their film. We saw it in LA, the way they guarded. They’ve got an identity about themselves defensively now that they didn’t have in November, December.

“They’ve got talented players. They’ve got some dudes. We’ve got to do a better job, but the rebounding battle is going to be key. We’ve got to compete on the glass.”

Under first-year head coach Mick Cronin, UCLA struggled out of the gate, losing nonconference home games against Hofstra and Cal State Fullerton. But the Bruins arrive at the CU Events Center with wins in four straight games and in eight of the past 10. UCLA is coming off a Thursday night win at Utah in which the Bruins shot 50 percent from the floor while outrebounding the Utes 33-24.

“This is just an outsider’s view, but it seemed like in November and December, the players were fighting the coach,” Boyle said. “And now it seems the coach has convinced the players what needs to be done on the defensive end. And they’re doing it. Credit to Mick Cronin and credit to their players for making that happen. They’re a totally different team. You look back at November and December, and it’s like a different animal.”

Siewert stuff

Working on a story as layered as the one posted yesterday on Lucas Siewert’s journey to America as a teenager to pursue his basketball dreams inevitably leaves a few great items on the cutting room floor. Here are a few of them.

— Siewert started out as an avid soccer player, but then was hit by huge growth spurt in second and third grade. “I was the tall kid,” he said. “That’s one of the main reasons I stopped playing soccer as well and started going to basketball. Since I started playing basketball I was always able to shoot. That’s something I’ve worked on since I started playing. I stood out a little when I was young.”

— Siewert originally was signed at Arizona State, but when Bobby Hurley replaced Herb Sendek as head coach, Siewert was released to pursue other opportunities. In the spring of 2016, he signed with CU as part of a checkered freshman class. Two of his freshmen teammates, Bryce Peters and Deleon Brown, left the program after one year and three years, respectively. Meanwhile, Dallas Walton might be in the program for six years if his planned pursuit for a sixth season of eligibility is awarded after next season.

“It’s kind of crazy when you think about when I first got here and the people I came with, Deleon and Bryce and Dallas,” Siewert said. “I’m the only one that’s graduating in 2020 like I planned in high school.”

— Boyle has mentioned several times in recent months that he wishes he had redshirted Siewert during his freshman season of 2016-17. Siewert played in 32 games, 29 of them off the bench, and averaged just 2.7 points in 11.5 minutes.

“It’s his fourth year and his body looks like a Pac-12 big. He’s playing like a senior. I just wish he was a redshirt junior,” Boyle said. “But I’m really pleased with the career he’s had and the season he’s had. There’s certain seasons he came out on fire and didn’t finish. Then there was another season where he started slow and finished strong. This year, he’s been one of our most consistent guys.

“To me, he’s a prime candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. No doubt.”

— Siewert is set to avoid what would have been an unfortunate piece of history in the Boyle era. The Buffs are well on their way to landing an NCAA Tournament berth, but at the beginning of the year Siewert was in danger of becoming the first four-year player under Boyle to not make an NCAA tourney appearance.

Standings update

Going into Saturday’s action, the Buffs are in control of their own destiny for at least a share of the Pac-12 Conference regular season crown. They will need a little help to win the title outright, which means Buffs fans should root for No. 14 Oregon to win at No. 24 Arizona on Saturday night (7 p.m. MT, ESPN).

Assuming the Buffs take care of UCLA, that scenario would leave CU still tied with Arizona State in the loss column, also assuming ASU wins on Saturday against Oregon State. Unlike a potential season-ending tie with Arizona, the Buffs would own the tie-breaker for the top overall seed with the Sun Devils.

Parquet coming through

Sophomore guard Eli Parquet did not play at all in the first two Pac-12 games of the season, and he averaged only 4.2 minutes over the next six games. Matters changed beginning with CU’s win at USC on Feb. 1, when Parquet played 27 minutes and matched a career high with five rebounds.

Since then, Parquet has averaged 17.3 minutes over the past six games. It is Parquet’s impressive perimeter defense that his getting him extended minutes on the floor, but the run over the past six games also includes a career-high-matching seven points at Oregon State and a ledger of seven assists against three turnovers.

“Eli has really shown probably over the last month in practice, he’s shooting the ball with more confidence,” Boyle said. “He’s guarding. He played terrific defense I thought against USC in LA. I thought he was better (against USC on Thursday). All he has to do is defend, make open shots, and take care of the ball. When he does that, he helps this team.”

Notable

The Pac-12 announced this week it has introduced “Flex Pass” options for the league tournament, which begins March 11 in Las Vegas. The Flex Pass essentially adds more options to the early-session pass and the finals pass, and more information is available at Pac-12.com/tickets…The Buffs 39-29 rebounding deficit in a loss at UCLA Jan. 30 remains its second-largest glass deficit of the season, trailing only the 39-25 rebounding edge Arizona enjoyed against the Buffs on Jan. 18…CU’s Tyler Bey and McKinley Wright IV are nearing defensive milestones. Bey needs one blocked shot to become the 10th Buffs player with 100 in his career. Wright’s next steal will make him the 21st Buffs player with 100 career steals.