UCLA No.5 after COVID-19 has been waiting to play his first game in weeks


LOS ANGELES – After a nearly two-week shutdown due to COVID-19, UCLA is back. At least the fifth-ranked Bruins are trying to be.

If only they could find a game to play.

The team resumed training a week ago, with everyone from coach Mick Cronin to multiple players having recovered from being shot down by the coronavirus. Only three stock market players have not tested positive.

Now they’re looking for someone, anyone really from Division I down, to play. Cronin spent four hours on the phone Monday night at a sushi dinner with his girlfriend trying to find an opponent or two for this week.

“If we could get the Lakers, we probably would on Thursday,” he joked.

The Bruins (8-1) haven’t played since Dec. 11, when they won at Marquette. Four days later, Cronin woke up “feeling bad”, tested positive and immediately went into quarantine. The Bruins’ game that night against Alabama State was called off an hour before kickoff.

“It was a mad rush,” Cronin said. “I feel better now. Being in the bedroom for 10 days was no fun at all.

The games against North Carolina in Las Vegas and Cal Poly at home have been called off. After winning their opening Pac-12 game on Dec. 1 against Colorado, the Bruins postponed four more championship games.

UCLA believed it would host the state of Arizona on Wednesday, but the Sun Devils then struggled with COVID-19. It’s up to the Pac-12 office to schedule league games; the Bruins can field any non-conference game themselves.

All the staff are working furiously on the phones to see who has the game. Cronin said he would discuss with the league office the possibility of allowing schools to face an opponent three times, which he did last season, just to fill the pockmarked schedule.

The Southern California rival may receive a phone call. After all, the seventh-ranked Trojans (12-0) are only 12 miles across town and have been inactive since defeating Georgia Teach on December 18.

“I don’t care if we flip a coin,” Cronin said, referring to the choice of a gaming site.

Trojans, who have struggled with COVID-19 themselves, are doing slightly better on their schedules. Road games this week in California and Stanford were still underway on Tuesday.

Next week isn’t looking much better for UCLA or USC. Oregon schools must travel to Los Angeles, but the Ducks and Beavers are struggling with COVID-19.

“We all want to play, but we understand what it’s like for the other teams going through it,” starting goalkeeper Jules Bernard said via Zoom on Tuesday.

The Bruins’ COVID-19 woes coincided with the Christmas vacation, leaving Bernard alone in his off-campus apartment. Without classes and without access to a gym, he played video games between push-ups and stretching.

“Nothing can prepare you to come back to train after 10 or 12 days without hitting a basketball,” he said.

The Bruins found out when they finally got together.

“We tried to run a sprint and some guys threw up in the trash,” Cronin said. “Training and training is one thing. The legs of the game are totally different.

The players kept in touch via group texts and met the technical staff via Zoom.

Like Bernard, Jaime Jaquez Jr. has resumed his old habit of playing video games. He compared the quarantine days to an extended respite similar to the NBA All-Star break.

“COVID has caught up with us,” he said, referring to last season when the Bruins didn’t have a single case.

Cronin is careful when it comes to getting impatient players back into the training and playing regime so that they don’t get injured.

“We’re always chomping at the bit,” said Bernard, “and staying ready for any game.”

After COVID-19, UCLA No.5 has been waiting to play his first game in weeks, originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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