Dodgers score 5 runs in 12th inning to beat Padres in opener

  • The Dodgers’ Max Muncy is safe at home plate after a throwing error by Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. as catcher Luis Campusano applies the late tag during the sixth inning of Friday’s game at PETCO Park in San Diego. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of a game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Ryan Weathers #40 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the first inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres taps Mookier Betts #42 of the Los Angeles Dodgers after tagging out on a double play during the first inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of a game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres tags out Mookie Betts #42 after Corey Seager #42 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hit into a double play during the first inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres avoids a high pitch as Will Smith #42 of the Los Angeles Dodgers makes the catch during the first inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: during the inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on after Manny Machado #13 scored on a single by Luis Campusano #21 of the San Diego Padres during the second inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Luis Campusano #21 looks on as Ryan Weathers #40 of the San Diego Padres walks off the mound after being taken out during the fourth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Ryan Weathers #40 of the San Diego Padres walks off the field after being taken out of the game during the fourth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws to first but is unable to get the out on a single by Wil Myers #5 of the San Diego Padres during the fourth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Tommy Pham #28 of the San Diego Padres returns to the dugout after striking out during the fourth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws out Jurickson Profar #10 of the San Diego Padres during the fourth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Dan Altavilla #57 of the San Diego Padres looks on after allowing a solo homerun to Luke Raley #62 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fourth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Luis Campusano #21 of the San Diego Padres looks on as Luke Raley #62 of the Los Angeles Dodgers touches the plate after hitting a solo homerun during the fifth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres hits a solo homerun as Will Smith #16 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and umpire Mark Ripperger #90 look on during the fifth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres reacts after hitting a solo homerun as umpire Mark Ripperger #90 looks on during the fifth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Manny Machado #13 of the San Diego Padres congratulates Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres after his solo homerun during the fifth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Jake Cronenworth #9 congratulates Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres after his solo homerun during the fifth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres leaps to field a single hit by Chris Taylor #3 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the sixth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres leaps to field a single hit by Chris Taylor #3 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the sixth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres overthrows first base on a single hit by Chris Taylor #3 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the sixth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Max Muncy #13 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is safe at home plate after a throwing error by Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 as Luis Campusano #21 of the San Diego Padres places the tag late while umpire Mark Ripperger #90 looks on during the sixth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Max Muncy #13 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is safe at home plate after a throwing error by Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 as Luis Campusano #21 of the San Diego Padres places the tag late while umpire Mark Ripperger #90 looks on during the sixth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Max Muncy #13 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is safe at home plate after a throwing error by Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 during the sixth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Jake Cronenworth #9 congratulates Ha-Seong Kim #7 of the San Diego Padres after he scored on a throwing error during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Victor Gonzalez #81 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches during the eighth inning of a game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Will Smith #16 scores on an RBI double by Zach McKinstry #8 of the Los Angeles Dodgers as Luis Campusano #21 of the San Diego Padres awaits the throw during the eighth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Will Smith #16 scores on a double by Zach McKinstry #8 and is congratulated by Luke Raley #62 of the Los Angeles Dodgers as Luis Campusano #21 of the San Diego Padres looks on during the eighth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers connects for an RBI single as Luis Campusano #21 of the San Diego Padres looks on during the ninth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Will Smith #16 congratulates Mookie Betts #50 after he scored on an RBI single by Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the ninth inning of a game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 and Jake Cronenworth #9 congratulate Manny Machado #13 after he scored on a single by Eric Hosmer #30 of the San Diego Padres during the ninth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Dennis Santana #77 of the Los Angeles Dodgers challenges Jorge Mateo #3 of the San Diego Padres after hitting him with a pitch during the tenth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Will Smith #16 and Max Muncy #13 hold back Dennis Santana #77 of the Los Angeles Dodgers as he challenges Jurickson Profar #10 after hitting Jorge Mateo #3 of the San Diego Padres with a pitch looks on during the tenth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Will Smith #16 and Max Muncy #13 hold back Dennis Santana #77 of the Los Angeles Dodgers as he challenged Jorge Mateo #3 after hitting him with a pitch as Jurickson Profar #10 of the San Diego Padres looks on during the tenth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Will Smith #16 and Max Muncy #13 hold back Dennis Santana #77 of the Los Angeles Dodgers as he challenged Jorge Mateo #3 after hitting him with a pitch as Jurickson Profar #10 of the San Diego Padres looks on while umpire Mark Ripperger #90 intervenes during the tenth inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Third base coach Dino Ebel congratulates Corey Seager #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers after his two run homerun during the twelth inning of a game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • The Dodgers’ Corey Seager, right, is congratulated by teammate Mookie Betts as Padres catcher Victor Caratini looks on after Seager hit a tiekbreaking two-run home run during the 12th inning of Friday’s game at PETCO Park in San Diego. The Dodgers won the opener of the three-game series, 11-6. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Tim Hill #25, Fernando Tatis Jr. #23, Eric Hosmer #30, and Manny Machado #13 of the San Diego Padres look on from the mound during the 12th inning of a game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Manager Jayce Tingler relieves Tim Hill #25, as Jake Cronenworth #9, Eric Hosmer #30, Manny Machado #13, Luis Campusano #21 and Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres look on during the twelth inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., right, goes over the top of Los Angeles Dodgers’ Max Muncy, as Muncy slides in safely to second base during the 12th inning of a baseball game Friday, April 16, 2021, in San Diego. Los Angeles Dodgers’ Chris Taylor grounded into a fielders choice, and Tatis picked up a fielding error on the play. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Justin Turner (10) reacts with teammate Luke Raley (62) after scoring off a single by Raley during the twelfth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, April 16, 2021, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: David Price #33 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches during the 12th inning of a game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Corey Seager #5 and Zach McKinstry #8 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hug as Wil Myers #5 of the San Diego Padres walks off the field after the Dodgers defeated the San Diego Padres 11-6 in a 12 inning game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 16: Justin Turner #10, Mookie Betts #50, Corey Seager #5 and Zach McKinstry #8 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate defeating the San Diego Padres 11-6 in a twelve inning game at PETCO Park on April 16, 2021 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

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SAN DIEGO — Did they leave anything for the second act?

With early-aughts ThunderStix apparently teleported in for the occasion, Friday’s first meeting between the Dodgers and their newly-minted NL West challengers did a better job of living up to Justin Turner’s spring prediction of 19 regular-season World Series games than down to the ho-hum, all-business attitude some Dodgers put on this week.

“Yeah, it felt like a rivalry tonight,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who rejected that label this spring.

The San Diego Padres came from behind with two runs in the eighth inning off Corey Knebel then did it again with a run in the ninth, down to their last strike against Kenley Jansen.

But Corey Seager finally decided things in the 12th inning, leading off with a two-run home run – an unholy phrase birthed by baseball’s new extra-innings rule – that sparked a five-run inning and gave the Dodgers an 11-6 victory over the Padres late Friday night at Petco Park.

“That was the most exciting thing I’ve ever been a part of,” said Dodgers rookie Luke Raley, who hit his first MLB home run but did not have to live a sheltered life before making that statement.

The first of seven meetings over 10 days (and 19 during the regular season) between the two teams expected to vie for National League supremacy, it was quite an opening act for the season-long drama ahead. The last inning featured Joe Musgrove – feted in a pre-game ceremony for throwing the first no-hitter in Padres history earlier this week – playing left field for the Padres and David Price collecting the second RBI of his 13-year career and first win with the Dodgers.

“It felt like a playoff game,” Roberts said. “They deployed a lot of guys. We deployed a lot of guys. The intensity was there. Man, I can look up and down my lineup card and everyone contributed.

“I’m just spent emotionally. … We responded. They answered back. They kept fighting. We kept fighting.”

In fact, they nearly did. The game even featured the first staredown of the rivalry when the Dodgers’ Dennis Santana hit Jorge Mateo with a pitch in the 10th inning – a duo not even on the board when predicting who would set off the first benches-clearing confrontation in this matchup.

“I was kind of thinking about that out in the bullpen,” said Price, a veteran of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. “All rivalries in baseball are really good. But once you get that first benches-clearing whatever happens – that’s when it goes to that next level.”

This one already had plenty of levels.

The Padres activated their star shortstop, Fernando Tatis Jr., from the Injured List for the series, reportedly advising him about the “danger points” and “high-risk plays” they hoped he would avoid – things like diving for balls – so he wouldn’t re-injure the shoulder he partially dislocated just 11 days ago.

He didn’t heed their advice.

With runners on first and third and two outs in the sixth inning, Tatis made a diving stop of Chris Taylor’s ground ball into the hole, rolled over and tried to throw to second base for an inning-ending forceout that would have preserved a one-run Padres’ lead – built on a Tatis home run.

His throw was wide of the base and scuttled off into right field as two Dodger runs scored. The error led to a three-run boondoggle and a two-run lead for the Dodgers to protect over the final three innings.

They couldn’t.

It turned into a one-run lead when the Padres scored on a throwing error by Zach McKinstry in the seventh, then a two-run lead again when McKinstry’s double over right fielder Wil Myers’ head drove in a run in the top of the eighth.

Knebel came in to protect that lead in the eighth and gave up a leadoff single to Manny Machado. It was the first hit off Knebel this season (by the 18th batter he faced).

Two batters later, Myers’ single was the second then Jurickson Profar’s double down the left field line was the third. Two runs scored on the double, tying the game.

Jansen came in and put out the fire with two runners on then the Dodgers gave him a new lead to protect. Mookie Betts led off the ninth with a single, went to second when Seager dribbled a ground out in front of home plate and scored when Turner lashed a single through the infield.

But Jansen had to go through the teeth of the Padres’ order to close it out in the bottom of the ninth. He didn’t quite make it. He walked Machado with two outs. Machado stole second to get into scoring position then advanced to third on a pitch in the dirt. Down to his last strike, Eric Hosmer drove a ground ball single into center field to tie the score again.

Santana loaded the bases in the 10th but froze Tatis on a called third strike to escape. In the 11th, Roberts turned to Thursday night’s closer, Price, who had pitched on consecutive days just twice before in his career. He went the final two innings, getting the win when the Dodgers broke the game open in the 12th on Seager’s home run, RBI singles by McKinstry and Luke Raley – and a sacrifice fly by Price.

­“I mean, it had everything. It really did,” Roberts said. “It was incredible. It’s hard for me to kind of process this one right now. I’ll take the win and I’ll probably not even try to think through this game again and get ready for tomorrow.”

First pitch swinging, see you later. 👋 pic.twitter.com/yMXU9AAP2L

— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) April 17, 2021

Round 1 goes to the @Dodgers. pic.twitter.com/sv8GpcsDUm

— MLB (@MLB) April 17, 2021

DENNIS. SANTANA. pic.twitter.com/p8lJwB1HJN

— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) April 17, 2021

Luke with a no-doubter. 💪 #Crushed pic.twitter.com/FyHtvyZhKE

— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) April 17, 2021

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Alexander: Another UCLA victory in another crazy finish

Being the 11th Seed That Could is nice. But Mick Cronin noted Sunday night, after his UCLA Bruins knocked off Alabama, that just overachieving is hardly satisfactory.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, now you’ve been to an Elite Eight,’” he said. “That’s not why I came to UCLA. I’ve got a lot of friends in the NBA, and they make fun of people that have rings that say ‘Conference champion.’ There’s only one. Whoever wins the NBA title is the world champion.

“So for me, we’ve got to win three more games.”

They still have a chance. And now that UCLA is back in the Final Four, maybe we should stop being surprised.

They were ready for the moment again Tuesday night, beating No. 1 seed Michigan, 51-49, in a slog of a game that further demonstrated the resilience that has made UCLA just the second team to go from the First Four to the Final Four. And while Cronin has repeated at each of his post-game news conferences during this run that all the credit should go to the players, those players are a reflection of the guy in charge.

“On April 9, 2019, I told you, I spell fun w-i-n,” Cronin said Tuesday night, a reference to the day he was hired at UCLA. “You have to find a way to win, and these guys are having the most fun they’ve ever had in their life back in that locker room because they won.

“I told them I was going to teach them how to win. And you have to be able to win different ways … to find a way to beat (Michigan) with defense the way we did tonight, I’m obviously extremely proud of our team. It was just resilience.”

Johnny Juzang, who shot the Bruins back into the game in the first half after they trailed 11-4, and finished with 28 points even after hurting his right ankle early in the second half and leaving the game briefly, is an L.A. guy who originally chose Kentucky but had no hesitation returning home to play for Cronin. The shooter and the defensive-minded coach wouldn’t seem to be a natural match, but Juzang said the idea of being coached hard appealed to him.

“There’s just something inexplainable. I just felt something about Coach,” he said. “I knew that he was hard. I knew that he was intense. I knew that he was defensive-minded, and those are things that drew me. I wanted that. I wanted to be pushed. … I knew that he would push me and hold me accountable and challenge me, and I wanted to play for a program where he does that for everybody.”

Consider that he left Kentucky, another of the sport’s blue-bloods.

Also consider that Kentucky missed the tournament, while UCLA knocked off the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in its region to get to the last Saturday. The last 11 seed to do that was LSU in 1986, led by former Crenshaw High star John Williams, which beat the top three seeds in its region.

These Bruins and those Tigers are two of only five No. 11 seeds ever to make it to the Final Four, joining George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2011 – the first team to get there from the First Four – and Loyola-Chicago in 2018.

None of us had the heart during the postgame Zoom session to ask Cronin if he’d started looking ahead to Gonzaga, the undefeated overall  No. 1 seed that laid waste to USC’s Final Four chances in the first game of the evening.

But maybe the Bruins – having won two tourney games in overtime already – were paying close enough attention to that game to be reminded just how important it is to seize the moment. Gonzaga (30-0) took the initiative from the tipoff and USC was on its heels most of that game. In the nightcap, after Michigan (23-5) took its early 11-4 lead with UCLA making just 2 of 13 field-goal attempts, the Bruins (22-9) threw the next punch. Juzang scored 12 points in a 3:40 span to put his team in front, where it would stay most of the game.

The little things matter for this team, hugely, and a guy who didn’t score a point might have been indispensable. Kenneth Nwuba, the 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore from Lagos, Nigeria who had averaged 5.4 minutes in the 16 games he played, was on the court for 21 minutes after Cody Riley got into early foul difficulty. Nwuba had five rebounds, drew two charging fouls early in the game and was one of the guys Cronin was thinking of when he suggested that the stat sheet might as well be crumpled up.

“Kenny has never played that many minutes, I don’t think,” he said. “He dug deep for us – five big rebounds, great physicality, set some great screens. Again, stats can be overrated. Here is a guy that didn’t score but (the questioner) brought his name up for a reason. He had a big impact on the game physically.”

How big a milestone is this? UCLA will be in the Final Four for the first time since 2008 and the 19th time overall (though the 1980 appearance was vacated by the NCAA, so the official number is 18).

Cronin made it in his second season in Westwood. It took Ben Howland three years. It took John Wooden 14.

“I knew the expectations, right?” Cronin said. “I mean, it’s pretty clear at UCLA.

“I thank (former athletic director) Dan Guerrero for believing in me. I tried to convince him and the guys that were around him with this that I understood it and I wanted it. Coach (Rick) Pitino is like an older brother to me, and he used to say, ‘I’d rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a lamb.’ It’s like I told my father (Hep), ‘If I don’t take this job I’ll feel like a lamb.’”

Oh, he’s a lion all right. His players will attest to that, and so will any official within earshot after a questionable call.

That passion has gotten his team back to the Final Four. It already is a double-digit underdog to Gonzaga in Saturday’s semifinal, according to the experts in the desert. But would you really want to bet against UCLA’s toughness, resilience and stubbornness?

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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Whicker: Another opponent disappears into USC’s zone of doom

  • Isaiah White #5 of the USC Trojans reacts in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen round game against in the USC Trojans the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

  • Oregon guard Chris Duarte (5) passes around Southern California guard Ethan Anderson, left, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard LJ Figueroa, right, passes around Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) drives up court ahead of Oregon forward Chandler Lawson, right, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Southern California guard Isaiah White (5) drives to the basket past Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi (2) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi, left, fights for a rebound with Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi, right, eyes a loose ball in front of Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard Chris Duarte (5) shoots over Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard Chris Duarte, center, shoots between Southern California guard Isaiah White, left, and forward Evan Mobley, right, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard Will Richardson drives ahead of Southern California guard Drew Peterson (13) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley shoots over Oregon guard Will Richardson (0) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Oregon guard Will Richardson drives to the basket ahead of Southern California guard Drew Peterson, left, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California guard Tahj Eaddy shoots over Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi (2) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Southern California guard Tahj Eaddy (2) drives between Oregon guard LJ Figueroa, left, and guard Will Richardson, right, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon head coach Dana Altman watches from the bench during the first half of a Sweet 16 game against Southern California in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard LJ Figueroa (12) shoots over Southern California guard Isaiah White, left, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi, center, fights for a rebound with Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) and forward Chevez Goodwin (1) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California guard Tahj Eaddy drives to the basket ahead of Oregon center Franck Kepnang, left, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Isaiah White #5 of the USC Trojans reacts to a play against the Oregon Ducks in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen round game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

  • Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) shoots over Oregon forward Eugene Omoruyi (2) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard Will Richardson, right, drives up court in front of Southern California guard Tahj Eaddy (2) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley (3) drives to the basket ahead of Oregon forward Eric Williams Jr., left, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California guard Isaiah White (5) shoots over Oregon guard Will Richardson (0) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California guard Isaiah White celebrates after making a basket during the first half of a Sweet 16 game against Oregon in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard Chris Duarte drives to the basket past Southern California guard Isaiah White, right, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Oregon guard LJ Figueroa (12) tries to steal the ball from Southern California guard Isaiah White, left, during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Southern California forward Evan Mobley (4) fights for the opening tipoff with Oregon guard LJ Figueroa (12) during the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Oregon guard LJ Figueroa (12) loses the ball over Southern California forward Isaiah Mobley, left, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Southern California guard Drew Peterson celebrates after making a 3-point basket during the second half of a Sweet 16 game against Oregon in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Southern California guard Drew Peterson (13) passes ahead of Oregon guard Will Richardson, left, during the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Drew Peterson #13 of the USC Trojans reacts in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen round game against the Oregon Ducks in the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

  • Drew Peterson #13 of the USC Trojans reacts to a foul call in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen round game against the Oregon Ducks in the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

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Well, at least the Pac-12 regular-season championship is put to bed.

USC broke the virtual tie with Oregon and, for the second time this season, broke everything else the Ducks had planned.

This 82-68 win will be better-known as the ramp to the regional finals for the Trojans, who will see undefeated Gonzaga at the top of it Tuesday night..

It came atop the 72-58 win over the Ducks in Galen Center on Feb. 22, one in which the Trojans led 15-0 and by 21 at the half without Isaiah Mobley. This one was nearly as routine, although the no-quit Ducks hassled USC with their pressure defense in the second half and actually made USC coach Andy Enfield call a time out under duress.

Although Isaiah White and Tahj Eaddy pushed the Trojans ahead in the first half with their shooting, the two signature moments came from the Mobley family.

Isaiah took an inbounds pass against Oregon’s press and sauntered 70 feet for a reverse dunk. Evan, who had been a sedate presence until then, took advantage of a defensive gamble and tickled all the seismographs in the Midwest with a two-hand jam, one that he will replicate on a weekly basis, at least, for some lottery-bound NBA franchise next season.

But the Trojans really won with a zone defense that is becoming Enfield’s weapon of choice. With 6-foot-8 Drew Peterson on the point and with the Mobleys standing back there like library lions, Oregon was flummoxed enough to shoot 30 percent in the first half.

It was leading 10-9 when USC went into the zone and got a bucket on the first possession against it. The Trojans then scored 12 of the next 14 points, over a span of 4:05, and the Ducks missed seven consecutive shots. In the half, Oregon missed six of 10 layups in this claustrophobia-inducing setting, and because the Trojans were stroking their 3-pointers so consistently, the Ducks couldn’t find the speed game they needed.

It’s the type of zone that makes USC look so futuristic. The basketball authorities haven’t made the court any wider over the years, so when folks like Eaddy and Peterson and Isaiah White are sprinting out to hassle the shooters. That’s how you force so many offensive shoes to land on the sideline, a 21st-century type of turnover that comes from such wide spacing.

“The energy of March Madness and the crowd,” explained White, the transfer from Utah Valley.  “We know what’s at stake every time we come out on the floor.”

So far White and the other shooters have prevented the Trojans’ foul shooting maladies from catching up. And if the Trojans keep winning games by an average margin of 21 points, their immunity will hold.

As usual, USC opened with man-to-man defense, which is Enfield’s usual preference. He also knew Plan B wouldn’t be far away.

“They have five forwards and guards, and we have two bigs in the game,” Enfield said. “I really don’t think we can guard them man-to-man, because all five of them can shoot the ball from outside. We don’t want to bring our bigs away from the basket.  It’s hard to chase those guys all over the perimeter and we didn’t want to switch all of their ball screens, so we were able to get out on those shooters and still be strong inside. Then we just rotated our wings as we went along.”

Zones often dominate the tournament, as anyone who has played Syracuse in March can testify. Teams have little time to prepare for the ball movement that’s demanded, and they can’t really replicate what it looks like in real life.

“We probably played man-to-man 90 percent of the time during the season,” Enfield said. “But in the tournament we’ve played, we’ve played three similar teams. We went to the zone out of necessity against all their shooters.. I don’t like going small too often, and our man-to-man has been terrific most of the year. It’s basically because of the matchups we’ve had.

“We didn’t practice it for maybe a month before the tournament. Now we’re got better and better because we’ve played it so much.”

Drake, Kansas and Oregon have shot 32.1 percent, or missed 67.9 percent, in these tournament losses to USC. Which brings us to the creature at the top of the ramp.

Gonzaga shot 49 percent in its second round win over Wisconsin. That was their worst — repeat, worst — shooting performance of its undefeated season.

On Tuesday, Gonzaga’s year-long Hot Zone intersects with a hot zone. Only one can escape.

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Whicker: Against USC’s Evan Mobley, Drake couldn’t find a lane to stay in

Paint removal is not the most fun aspect of spring cleaning. In that sense, USC and Galen Center are fortunate.

They don’t need a heat gun or sandpaper. They don’t even have to wander through the forbidding aisles of your favorite big-box store, in search of a remedy.

They have Evan Mobley.

They will not have him long, but they’ve known that all season. On Saturday, the freshman vaporized the lane and took away Darnell Brodie, who goes 6-foot-10, 270. Mobley stripped away the paint so effortlessly that his fellow Trojans joined in, and eventually Drake was reduced to long-range bombing, which worked in the first half of this NCAA tournament first round game but dissipated in the second.

USC wound up handling the tricky 6 vs. 11 matchup better than most, winning 72-56, and will graduate to a matchup with Kansas on Monday.

Brodie, a transfer from Seton Hall, missed 10 of 13 shots, and most of those misses were persuaded by either Evan or his brother Isaiah or Chevez Goodwin. Only 16 of Drake’s 56 points came in the lane, and only 12 of Drake’s 20 baskets came from someone other than Joseph Yesufu, who had 18 in the first half but was 2-for-10 in the second.

At one point the Bulldogs clunked 22 of 24 attempts, including nine of nine 3-pointers. But Mobley established the theme.

The obvious game plan is to nudge him into foul trouble, which is usually accomplished through head and ball fakes. Mobley has learned to keep his feet on the ground but even when he doesn’t, he is able to land without violating anyone’s airspace, and he never compromises his wingspan.

He is a “big” who plays big, in other words, and that is not an everyday sight in modern college basketball.

“He’s improved every week,” said coach Andy Enfield. “He has guarded physical bigs, athletic bigs, bigs with a lot of skill. And he’s able to put pressure on them offensively too.”

Mobley has played 1,020 minutes this season. He has committed only 53 fouls. The list of post defenders who have more blocks (90) and assists (76) than fouls is not a long one.

“In the college game, there are a lot more details on defense,” Mobley said. “I just try to use what the coaches teach me. I have a tendency to get jumpy at times. If I stay down I can still contest the shot if not block it.”

Five USC players combined for seven blocks, which doesn’t account for all the shots influenced, redirected or simply discouraged. One of those blocks came in the final minute from Joshua Morgan, the transfer from Long Beach State, and might have been Enfield’s way of reminding people that he has more paint-removal tools after Mobley gets away.

Max Agbonkpolo, the 6-foot-8 sophomore from Santa Margarita, is known as a potential scorer. He couldn’t resist the reject-a-thon either. He went high to try to block one dunk, although he was whistled for a foul.

“I thought he was outstanding, especially in our zone,” Enfield said. “He was very active. He’s got long arms and a great first-step. When we went to zone, he was in the game for a reason.”

As Enfield mentioned, it was reasonable to expect Drake to laugh now, cry later, due to its Thursday night First Four win over Wichita State. The Bulldogs had one night of recovery, and USC’s previous game was a Pac-12 tournament loss to Colorado eight days prior.

The game also demonstrated how USC can prosper if even one secondary scorer shows up. In this game it was Drew Peterson, who got to the hoop against Drake’s smaller guards and scored 14 on 5-of-10 shooting.

And it was another case of the Trojans overcoming their own free-throwing, which, in this game, was 8-for-15.

“It’s frustrating when good free-throw shooters miss,” Enfield said, “but we’re actually pretty good except for a couple of guys (Isaiah Mobley and Chevez Goodwin), and they’re improving.

“Tonight Evan was 2-for-4. But I wasn’t going to take him out.”

Kansas, which finally shook off Eastern Washington’s challenge, will be a tougher project. David McCormick is a 6-foot-10, 265-pound strongman who scored 22 on Eastern Washington.

But the Jayhawks have been plagued by COVID-19 in the short term and an investigation into what NCAA officials called “egregious” recruiting crimes in the long term. They haven’t lived up to their brand this season, and they gave up 35 points to EWU center Tanner Groves on Saturday.

A win would give USC a Final 16 appearance. It hasn’t done that in 14 years. The older the paint, the harder the scrape.

 

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Friday Night Football: All of the high school game stories, scores, photos

More teams were in action on Friday night for the second week of high school football’s unusual spring season.

And more games means more fun, more highlights, more memorable moments … more everything.

The Southern California News Group has put together the highlights from the busy night and made it easy for you to find the stories and scores you’re looking for — so you won’t miss anything.

GAMES OF THE NIGHT

Orange County | Los Alamitos erupts in third quarter to stop Corona del Mar


Corona del Mar quarterback David Rasor is sacked in the end zone by Los Alamitos’ Sinn Brennan in a Sunset League football game at Los Alamitos High in Los Alamitos on Friday, March 19, 2021. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

Los Angeles | Alemany football tops Notre Dame, but leaves a lot to be desired


Alemany’s Floyd Chalk carries the ball against Notre Dame March 19, 2021 in Mission Hills, CA. Alemany defeated Notre Dame 21-9.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Inland | Vista Murrieta erases 12-point deficit, defeats Chaparral football


Vista Murrieta defensive lineman Tavon Shippen #55 and Vista Murrieta defensive lineman Connor Hellman #97 stop Chaparral quarterback Caron Tyler #1 on a short run in the first half of the Southwestern League football game in Murrieta on Friday, March 19, 2021. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Inland | Claremont offense shines in shutout over Chino Hills football


Claremont quarterback Ricky Murillo (#6), throws a pass over Chino Hills’ Damien Burgueno, (#90) during Friday’s non-league game at Claremont High School in Claremont, Ca., March 19, 2020. (Contributing Photographer/John Valenzuela)

San Gabriel Valley | Noah Rodriguez has a big debut for Monrovia in victory over Northview


Quarterback Noah Rodriguez (9) of Monrovia looks to pass the ball in the first half of a prep football game against Northview at Covina District Field in Covina on Friday, March 19, 2021. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Long Beach | Late TD gives Wilson victory over Compton


Wilson’s Joshua Scott is taken down by Comptons defense in Long Beach, CA, on Friday, March 19, 2021. (Photo by Tracey Roman, Contributing Photographer)

South Bay | Arenbart’s late-game interception helps Redondo top Peninsula in Bay League


Redondo’s Darryl West, 3, carries the ball in second-half play against Peninsula during a Bay League match at Peninsula High School on Friday, March 19, 2021.(Photo by Axel Koester, Contributing Photographer)

DON’T MISS IT

Jimmy Nolan has family, team support as he rejoins Costa Mesa football team

Months after his family was involved in a tragic head-on collision, Nolan returned to sidelines for the Mustangs’ game against Katella.

  • Costa Mesa head football coach Jimmy Nolan and his two daughters, Paisley, top and Daisy say hello to their mother who is in the hospital recuperating from an auto accident before a game against Katella in a nonleague football game at Costa Mesa High Friday, March 19, 2021.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Costa Mesa head football coach Jimmy Nolan watches the action during a game against Katella in a nonleague football game at Costa Mesa High Friday, March 19, 2021.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Costa Mesa head football coach Jimmy Nolan and his son, Jimmy and two daughters, Paisley, center and Daisy spend some time together on the sidelines before a football game against Katella in a nonleague football game at Costa Mesa High Friday, March 19, 2021.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Costa Mesa head football coach Jimmy Nolan talks to his players before a game against Katella in a nonleague football game at Costa Mesa High Friday, March 19, 2021.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Costa Mesa head football coach Jimmy Nolan talks to his players before a game against Katella in a nonleague football game at Costa Mesa High Friday, March 19, 2021.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • A banner hangs above the press box for Costa Mesa head football coach Jimmy Nolan during a game against Katella in a nonleague football game at Costa Mesa High Friday, March 19, 2021.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Costa Mesa head football coach Jimmy Nolan with his trademark bowtie and shoes talks to his wife who is in the hospital recuperating from an auto accident before a game against Katella in a nonleague football game at Costa Mesa High Friday, March 19, 2021.
    (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

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SCORES & PHOTOS

Scores & photos from Friday’s high school football games


Pasadena takes on Burbank during a prep football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Friday, March 19, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

MORE COVERAGE BY AREA

Orange County Register games, scores

Press-Telegram games, scores

Daily Breeze games, scores

L.A. Daily News games, scores

Pasadena Star News games, scores

San Gabriel Valley Tribune games, scores

Whittier Daily News games, scores

Daily Bulletin games, scores

Press-Enterprise games, scores

San Bernardino Sun games, scores

Redlands Daily Facts games, scores

 

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Whicker: Beat-up UCLA rallies to beat Michigan State in night of validation

Mick Cronin had not seen John Wooden’s statue yet, the one that sits outside Purdue’s Mackey Arena, just in front of the Pyramid of Success. UCLA hadn’t reached West Lafayette, Indiana until 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday night for practice, and the Bruins were herded through the halls without a chance to wander.

Nowadays, Wooden’s image is a good omen for those who follow him. It used to peer through thick glasses, disapprovingly, when the first successors fell short of ultimate victory, but nearly everyone understands that 46 years have changed things. Wooden now is a reminder that UCLA once could do this, rather than a taskmaster who insisted it must.

Besides, Cronin had another old coach to worry about.

Hep Cronin came up from Cincinnati to watch his son’s first NCAA Tournament game as UCLA’s coach. It turned out to be UCLA’s first tournament win since the second round in 2017, when Lonzo Ball led the Bruins past Cincinnati, coached by Cronin, in Sacramento.

Mick had not seen his dad since February of 2020. Hep was coming to the Pac-12 Tournament that March, but a virus intervened. They talk each day, with Mick gently ribbing him about the winter sunshine that L.A. generally has and Cincinnati generally doesn’t.

Now?

“Now I get to see him again,” Mick said.

After a series of late-game swan dives, and after a long Sunday afternoon of waiting to see if the NCAA would even beckon, UCLA suddenly has much to anticipate.

Its 86-80 overtime victory over Michigan State will be prized as a rare example of Bruin grit and gumption, even though both teams were 11th seeds, and in the second half everyone found out why Michigan State was. The Spartans (15-13) were smooth and commanding in seizing a 44-33 halftime lead, but UCLA (20-7) paralyzed them with the defense that it hasn’t displayed often, and it somehow grabbed the game’s joystick and made every play it had to in the final minutes. Michigan State missed 11 of its final 15 shots and lost a game it had led by five with 30 seconds left.

“I never thought we couldn’t come back and win,” Jaime Jaquez, Jr. said. “But we had to come out in the second half with different energy.”

Or maybe Jaquez needed to bequeath some of his to everyone else. It’s difficult to remember when a UCLA player has had such an influential NCAA Tournament. Jaquez played all 45 minutes, hit 11 of 20 shots and scored a career-high 27 points, and after halftime, Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard got on board. In overtime Juzang went down with an ankle injury and had to be helped off the court, and who knows if he’ll be available Saturday against No. 6 seed Brigham Young? But by then he had scored 21 points, and the Bruins had underlined the fact that Michigan State’s defense, at least temporarily, has gone the way of the Oldsmobile.

“We thought (Malik) Hall and (Joey) Houser would guard Jaime,” Cronin said, “and we liked those matchups, so he knew I was going to be coming his way.”

Jaquez used his exemplary footwork and his keen anticipation, a sense that he displayed from Day One in a Bruin uniform in the fall of 2019. He can also shoot it conventionally, but he also has worked at the game so diligently that he knows how to invent the angles of attack. At one point he was zooming in for a layup and the ball escaped his hands, but he kept his legs moving and found himself in the left corner. The ball found him, too, and Jaquez swished a 3-pointer.

He also rebounded his own free-throw miss and converted the 3-point play that gave the Bruins the 77-77 tie it took into overtime. Over the final 25 minutes, Michigan State scored 36 points.

Jaquez had already committed to UCLA when Cronin took the job. He also had traveled with the Mexican national team, playing against men. “I think sometimes he’s almost better when we’re down,” Cronin said.

“I just try to give us what we need,” Jaquez said. “Tonight it was scoring, along with trying to get deflections. The kind of defense we played in the first half wasn’t going to get it done.”

The win also showed a maturity level in the program itself. True, UCLA spent the final two weeks losing close games. But it lost to USC on a fanciful shot at the buzzer, and it lost to Oregon because it suffered late turnovers against pressure, and it didn’t shoot free throws well against Oregon State. The Bruins had a four-game losing streak but they weren’t in the tank. They were actually the better team through most of those games and just couldn’t hold up down the stretch. There’s a difference, and Cronin kept saying that it was the nature of the game, not the nature of the players, that was causing the problem.

“They needed something like this,” Cronin said. He also said that he would find that Wooden statue before the Bruins left Indiana. They seem in no rush.

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Relief turns to hope as the UCLA Bruins are finally buzzed into the tournament

As the bracket announcement for the expanded Indiana State Basketball Fair was nearing the end, UCLA assistant coach Michael Lewis got the stink-eye from Mick Cronin, his boss.

“He’s our resident bracketologist,” Cronin said Sunday. “He assured me we were in. The fact that we got in was good for his job security. His credibility was slipping.”

No problem. The Bruins were the fifth Pac-12 team to gain entry to the NCAA field, which tells you about the fallowness of that field, and will play Michigan State in a First Four game sometime on Thursday, somewhere in Lewis’ home state.

The survivor of that battle of 11th seeds will meet Brigham Young in the next round. Both games are winnable for UCLA, just as USC’s game with the Drake-Wichita State winner is winnable, as is a probable matchup with Kansas after that.

Even UC Santa Barbara, the Big West champ with a 22-4 record, doesn’t appear disadvantaged by fifth-seeded Creighton in its first round. CSUN coach Mark Gottfried is among those who think the Gauchos are a live dog.

As Cronin mentioned, everyone is 0-0, even a Gonzaga club that is 26-0. The conference tournaments portend three weeks of NCAA chaos. Oregon State plowed through the Pac-12, and Georgetown, which entered the Big East tournament with a losing record, took advantage of Villanova’s injuries and then beat Connecticut and Creighton.

That could have endangered UCLA, but instead bounced Louisville, whose fans have totally shrugged off the fact that tournament selection committee chairman Mitch Barnhart is the athletic director at Kentucky. Right?

The Bruins got this bid because they won close games, a knack that escaped them at the very end. At one point they were 8-1 in games decided by five or fewer points, which does not count a triple-overtime win over Pepperdine. Only two of their losses in their 0-4 finish were that close, but they had control at Oregon and literally threw it away.

Michigan State conjures up images of muscled-up longshoremen who drop anvils on nearby heads. This MSU team was actually outscored by its opponents. It is true that the Spartans beat Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State in a 13-day span. It’s also true that Michigan State lost by 30 to Iowa and Rutgers, scoring 37 against the Scarlet Knights, and shot 41.2 percent in an opening-round Big 10 tournament loss to Maryland.

If anything, Michigan State’s familiarity with top-shelf Big Ten basketball will be its edge. There’s little question the Spartans, 9-11 in the Big 10, would have contended strongly for a Pac-12 title. But it doesn’t mean UCLA can’t win, particularly if Jules Bernard, Jaime Jaquez and Johnny Juzang can find a way to get hot simultaneously.

Meanwhile, what matchup does USC prefer? Drake won its first 19 games but then lost Roman Penn and Stephen Hemphill to injury, and it saw no one resembling Evan Mobley. Wichita State regrouped after Isaac Brown replaced coach Gregg Marshall, had no bad losses, and defeated Houston.

The Shockers have the ultimate 2020s player in Tyson Etienne, who shoots 39.9 percent from three-point land and 37.9 percent from two. He’s also DeAndre Jordan’s cousin.

UCSB has lost once since Dec. 27 and has JaQuori McLaughlin, the Big West Player of the Year. Creighton is 20-8 and well-respected, but is questionable on two fronts: a defensive field goal percentage of 48.6 and the Bluejays’ clunky 64.2 performance from the foul line.

Ultimately, those who win NCAA games will have to develop a sort of lab-rat obedience. The governing body is leaving few decisions to the coaches or schools.

“They’ve gone all-out,” Cronin said of the NCAA. “Here’s your hotel, here’s your floor, here’s your hallway and elevator. This is where you eat and practice. They’ll have expanded planes and buses to keep the distancing.”

This uncomfortable season might lead to useful procedures in the future, including more league games, and a centralized tournament. In fact, why not play the whole thing in L.A. someday? Certainly Staples Center, the new Clippers’ arena, Pauley Pavilion, Galen Center, Honda Center and Toyota Arena in Ontario could handle it.

There were those who thought the mere idea of a 2021 tournament was madness, and certainly COVID-19 was enormously disruptive. But, as Barnhart said, four of every five scheduled regular-season games were played. If the danger is controlled, the enthusiasm doesn’t have to be.

Besides, the Bruins got a chance to bump knuckles on a day when Duke, Louisville, Cincinnati, Indiana and Kentucky didn’t. When you still have games ahead, on the second Sunday of a pandemic March, you’re ahead of the game.

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Magnitude 3.0 earthquake reported near Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday evening

A magnitude 3.0 earthquake shook just north of Rancho Cucamonga late Sunday evening, Feb. 28, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The quake happened at 10:17 p.m. about 4.3 miles slightly to the northeast of Rancho Cucamonga, USGS reported. The earthquake’s intensity was estimated by USGS as being a level three, with “weak” shaking and likely no damage.

People took to social media to comment on the quake.

Was that an #earthquake ? Or did one of my boys roll out of bed? It’s a toss up. #Riverside

— Leticia Juarez (@ABC7Leticia) March 1, 2021

As of 11:25 p.m., nearly 580 people had reported to the USGS as having felt the earthquake. Most were in Inland Empire areas like Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario, San Bernardino and Riverside.

It was the second 3.0 quake in the area on Sunday. Another was reported about 5.6 miles north of Big Bear Lake at 12:12 p.m., according to the USGS website.

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Lakers blown out by Nuggets after Anthony Davis limps off with injury

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James gestures to teammates during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker, center, drives to the basket between Denver Nuggets forward Zeke Nnaji, left, and guard Facundo Campazzo in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: Dennis Schroder #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes to the basket against Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: Dennis Schroder #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes to the basket against Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, right, looks to pass the ball as Los Angeles Lakers center Montrezl Harrell defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets goes to the basket against Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the second quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts up a shot over Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: Monte Morris #11 of the Denver Nuggets is guarded by Alex Caruso #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the second quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: Monte Morris #11 of the Denver Nuggets is guarded by Dennis Schroder #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets goes to the basket against Dennis Schroder #17 and Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the second quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets goes to the basket against Dennis Schroder #17 and Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the second quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets puts up a shot over Marc Gasol #14 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets puts up a shot over Marc Gasol #14 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, right, looks to pass the ball as Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, right, shoots over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, left, is defended by Los Angeles Lakers center Marc Gasol during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: Alex Caruso #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes to the basket against Vlatko Cancar #31 of the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers center Marc Gasol watches during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James,, left, drives past Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets puts up a shot over Marc Gasol #14 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma, center, picks up the ball as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic pursues in the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, center, drives to the basket between Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso, left, and forward Kyle Kuzma in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder, right, drives to the basketas Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. defends in the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets forward Zeke Nnaji, center, drives to the basket as Los Angeles Lakers center Montrezl Harrell defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets puts up a shot against the Los Angeles Lakers in the second quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James jokes with Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, pulls in a rebound next to guard Talen Horton-Tucker during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., left, drives to the basket past Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, looks to pass the ball as Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo drives past Los Angeles Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker, rear, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis, left, looks to pass the ball as Denver Nuggets guards Jamal Murray, center, and Monte Morris defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris, front, picks up the ball in front of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, right, goes up to shoot over Los Angeles Lakers center Marc Gasol in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Alfonzo McKinnie, left, drives to the rim as Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. defends in the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, right, reacts as he is fouled while driving to the basket by Los Angeles Lakers center Marc Gasol in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James questions a call during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, left, pulls in a rebound as Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris, right, is defended by Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroeder during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Markieff Morris, left, picks up a loose ball next to Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets forward Zeke Nnaji, left, defends as Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroeder drives to the basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, right, is tied up by Los Angeles Lakers forward Markieff Morris during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • DENVER, COLORADO – FEBRUARY 14: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts up a shot over Vlatko Cancar #31 and R.J. Hampton #13 of the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter at Ball Arena on February 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

  • Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone, left, argues for a call with referee Nate Green during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Lakers center Marc Gasol, right, looks to pass the ball as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Denver Nuggets forward Zeke Nnaji, left, passes the ball as Los Angeles Lakers forward Alfonzo McKinnie defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James watches during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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Talk about a Valentine’s Day date gone wrong.

The Lakers entered Ball Arena on Sunday night with the hopes and expectations for a second straight win over the team they beat in the Western Conference finals last year. But what was initially living up to its billing as a playoff-worthy tilt quickly became a nightmare after an on-court bump aggravated Anthony Davis’ Achilles tendon injury, and the Lakers (21-7) tumbled with him.

From the moment Davis was injured late in the second quarter, when the Lakers trailed by five points, the Denver Nuggets (15-11) poured it on. They finished dealing the Lakers a 122-105 loss, ending a seven-game winning streak for the defending champions and leaving the status of their younger franchise star up in the air.

Davis is scheduled for an MRI on Monday after the Lakers travel to Minnesota for the second game of their brief trip – after which begins a grueling stretch of games against some of the league’s top teams, including the Brooklyn Nets, the Miami Heat and the Utah Jazz in short succession. With Davis already missing two games in the past week due to tendonosis in his right Achilles, the Lakers now might find themselves short one of their critical weapons for the stretch before the March 5 All-Star break.

“No rush. No timetable,” LeBron James said of his running mate. “We have no idea from that aspect. We just want him to be healthy and get back to full strength.”

If the Denver game is anything to go by, it’s not a promising road without Davis – the Lakers suffered their most lopsided loss of the season.

James scored aggressively early, driving a promising Lakers start after their recent run of brutal first-quarter efforts. But after scoring 19 points by halftime, including a soaring, buzzer-beating dunk to end the half, he had only three points after intermission as the Lakers reeled from the loss of Davis.

A week-and-a-half after a blowout loss to the Lakers at Staples Center, Nikola Jokic again looked like a leading MVP candidate with a triple-double (23 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists). The Nuggets took advantage after Davis walked gingerly off the court to end the half with an 11-5 spurt for the double-digit edge at the break, and the Lakers never quite found the capacity to catch up: Their offensive output diminished each quarter, from being neck-and-neck with Denver at the end of the first with 33 points to wrapping the fourth quarter with only 20.

There were 10 lead changes in the first half, but Denver never let go of it in the second. While the team denied that they couldn’t overcome the emotional hit from seeing Davis walk back to the locker room, James at least acknowledged it was a factor.

“I mean it’s definitely deflating anytime you lose a big player, your big guy on your team who at the start of the game, we have a lot of things that’s built in around A.D. and a lot of other players,” James said. “When he goes down, you have to switch up what you’re doing offensively and defensively. So obviously that hurt us.”

The Lakers’ ferocious defense, which spurred the comeback in the Feb. 4 win, was without its fangs, particularly after Davis left for the locker room. They struggled to defend the 3-point line, as the Nuggets went 19 for 47 from distance. Jamal Murray (25 points) did plenty of damage from long range, but so did rookies Zeke Nnaji and Facundo Campazzo, who combined for 31 points.

It was also another paltry night from the perimeter for the Lakers, who went just 6 for 28 on 3-point attempts. It’s a slumping trend: The team has now shot 33.3 percent or worse in 10 of its last 12 games.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he hoped his team would generate more open looks, especially if outside shooting has to carry more of the load with Davis out, but he trusted that some of that shooting will zip back toward how the Lakers shot at the start of the year.

“That’s one of those things you just stay the course, you continue to focus on execution and generating quality shots and have our guys continue to honor their work,” Vogel said. “And the numbers come back around.”

There was some light in the blowout: Kyle Kuzma capably stepped in for Davis, scoring 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds. While the fourth-year forward showed strong instincts on quick cuts to the basket in concert with James, his most memorable play was a one-handed putback dunk over Michael Porter Jr. in the third quarter – unfortunately for the Lakers, one of their few second-half highlights.

James said the game plan for the Minnesota game on Tuesday (against Karl-Anthony Towns) should be smoother if the Lakers have to play without Davis. And neither this loss nor any they might take without him, will have the space for excuses, Kuzma said.

“We still, A.D. or not, shouldn’t lose by 20,” he added. “We just got to come out and be more ready and be more engaged and ready to fight.”

“For me, all I care about is health. Our team needs him to be healthy.” @KingJames post-game with @LakersReporter discusses what the #Lakers need to do to make up for AD’s indefinite absence. pic.twitter.com/VuyHc6kd1F

— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) February 15, 2021

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Is Valentine’s Day dead? California baby-making in downward spiral

STAFF GRAPHIC
STAFF GRAPHIC

Valentine’s Day means it’s time for the “the talk” involving California’s young adults.

No, not the birds and the bees. This is business news, so instead, we’ll discuss the demographic implications of folks in their prime child-bearing years producing fewer freshly minted Californians.

My trusty spreadsheet, filled with state Department of Finance population data, found 436,682 California births in the year ended July 1 — down 14,544 in 12 months. It’s the fifth consecutive decline and the 10th drop in 12 years. Last year’s births were 8% below the 2015-19 average of 477,000.

The economy’s pandemic plunge wasn’t a factor in these numbers. Remember, it typically takes nine months to produce a new family member, and the pandemic became a life-changing event in the spring of 2020.

A declining birthrate is a complex issue with a heavy dose of economic factors. You don’t need a spreadsheet to understand that financially stressed families can’t afford another mouth to feed. There are long-term considerations, too.

Many couples who once were considering children have delayed growing a family or aren’t interested at all. Some women have careers they don’t want to sacrifice, and professional childcare can be extremely expensive.

Demographics are also a key factor. An aging state population and fewer young adults moving to California mean the state isn’t replenishing its potential baby-makers.

No matter why fewer babies are made, the shortfall means broad economic challenges — and not just for folks in childcare industries.

For example, a shortage of wee ones muddles an otherwise favorable demographic trend for many businesses — a growing flock of young workers.

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Fewer children also put a new spin on big policy debates. How many homes does California really need? What will become of school facilities? Where should healthcare facilities be built? Do we need all these sports parks?

The birth slowdown is one of the key reasons California’s population growth is rapidly shrinking.

Now, you can argue whether population growth is good for society or ecology. But financially speaking, more people bring financial windfalls to most business owners.

California added only 21,224 more residents in the year ended July 1, the smallest percentage gain in state records dating to 1900. This weak growth was a 90% drop from the average 211,000 new Californians of the previous five years.

Not just California

The nation isn’t procreating like it once did.

My spreadsheet, looking at national trends from the Center for Disease Control, found the number of newborns rose in just one state between 2014 and 2019 (the latest figures available): Florida. The Sunshine State’s births increased by a mere 0.005%. Nationwide, total births fell 6%.

California births dropped 11% during these five years, by CDC math. It was the nation’s sixth-largest drop behind No. 1 Wyoming, down 15%, then Alaska, down 14%, Vermont, down 13%, and New Mexico and Illinois, down 12%.”

Having a baby also looks unpopular when you ponder the CDC’s “fertility rate” — the rate of births compared with the number of girls and women aged 15 to 44. This yardstick fell in every state in the 2014-19 period and was down 7% nationwide.

California’s fertility rate dipped 11%, the 13th largest decline among the states. Utah suffered the biggest drop of 17%. Next was Montana and Arizona, down 15%; Oregon down 14%; and Wyoming, down 12%.

Boom ahead?

All this quarantining leads to much speculation about a post-pandemic baby boom.

What else might couples be doing while spending all this lockdown time together? My guess is they’ll do anything but create more hassles … I mean, babies.

Let’s face it. Working at home or schooling children remotely doesn’t spark many amorous flames. And you can imagine that financial anxiety created by the pandemic’s recession has dulled lustful intentions.

History tells us California births took their biggest tumbles this century in 2008 and 2009 — declines averaging 25,000 a year. That’s when the Great Recession was inflicting massive economic pain. Declines in U.S. births peaked in 2009-10, losses averaging 124,000 a year. In 2019, baby-making dipped by 44,172.

Never fear, St. Valentine. Romance isn’t dead yet. Folks just need a little time to get in the mood after a bout of economic dysfunction.

My spreadsheet says California’s biggest increase in births, post-Great Recession, came in 2012. Nationally, it was 2014.

So bet on a high-flying Valentine’s Day and post-pandemic baby boom to come — in a few years.

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