Mick Cronin sounds off on joy of having fans at UCLA road games after home silence

Mick Cronin sounds off on joy of having fans at UCLA road games after home silence

Bring it on, every irritating decibel. The boos, jeers and flapping of newspapers when UCLA’s starting lineup is introduced this week inside hostile venues will all be welcomed by the Bruins.

All organic sounds beat the fake fan noise and the echo of voices inside an empty arena the team recently endured on its home court.

“I think what will help us is to run out of a tunnel and play in front of fans,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said Tuesday. “I think it’s hugely demoralizing to our guys to play games in empty arenas when there’s 80,000 people at the Rams game [Monday], so our guys should be energized — I know they will when we run out in front of other people and get to play a game in front of fans.”

It will qualify as something of a road reprieve, then, when the ninth-ranked Bruins (11-2, 3-1 Pac-12 Conference) face Utah (8-10, 1-7) at the Huntsman Center on Thursday and Colorado (12-4, 4-2) at the CU Events Center on Saturday. Both venues have no limitations on attendance, unlike UCLA, USC and Stanford, which have permitted only family members of players in recent weeks amid the worsening pandemic.

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UCLA averaged 165 fans for games against Long Beach State, Oregon and Oregon State at Pauley Pavilion, not even a sliver of the 70,625 who jammed SoFi Stadium on Monday night for the Rams’ NFC wild-card playoff victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Ducks have also played home games without fan limitations.

The difference is that UCLA is holding classes remotely through Jan. 28, preventing students from congregating inside classrooms as part of its efforts to combat the virus’ spread. The school has limited attendance at indoor athletic venues through Jan. 21, meaning it must decide whether it wants to reverse its policy before a showdown between the Bruins and No. 3 Arizona on Jan. 25 at Pauley Pavilion.

Cronin has repeatedly mentioned his preference to have fans back for home games while also acknowledging how the situation has presented a growth opportunity for his players.

“This is just one example of something that hasn’t gone our way,” Cronin said. “Are we gonna let it affect us? Because that’s how life is. The people that persevere in life are the people that are able to fight through much tougher problems than no fans at games. They can fight through much harder things going on around them and extenuating circumstances, be it tragedy, sickness, health, loss, whatever, personal loss.

“But our guys, I always try to relate it to what’s gonna happen to them when they try to play professionally, wherever that may be. They could be playing somewhere with some coach that’s drinking vodka, smoking a cigarette, doesn’t speak English. And I’ve had a lot of guys play for me, and they’re gonna have to deal with that.”

By at least one metric, UCLA is about to face its two toughest road games of the season. Basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy rates Colorado as having the biggest home-court advantage in the country and ranks Utah at No. 7, primarily because of the elevation of each venue. Utah ranks third in the conference in home attendance, averaging 7,444 fans per game, while Colorado is fourth with an average of 6,433 fans per game.

Getting loud this week in those venues might unwittingly pump up the visitors.

“We’re always prepared — fans or not,” UCLA senior guard Jules Bernard said. “We’re just excited to be playing during these times. But [having fans] definitely helps, gets the energy up in the building.”

Injury updates

Cronin said junior guard Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s swollen left ankle that kept him out of the game against Oregon State last weekend was much improved and he was hopeful Jaquez could practice Tuesday.

Senior guard David Singleton, who hit the back of his head on the chairs along the team bench while chasing a loose ball in the first half of the game against the Beavers, was expected to undergo a concussion protocol test Tuesday.

Redshirt sophomore forward Kenneth Nwuba, who rolled his right ankle in the second half, returned to practice Monday.

Utah will likely be without leading scorer Branden Carlson, its 7-foot center who has missed the last three games with appendicitis.

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