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Mick Cronin rarely goes easy on his players.

Known for ripping his team in good times (a recent home win over USC, albeit a hideous one) and bad (a November loss to Illinois after holding a 15-point lead in the second half), UCLA’s volatile coach took a softer approach Thursday night.

He praised USC. He gave the Trojans credit for mucking up the eighth-ranked Bruins’ offense. For making “unguardable” shots. For getting fans behind them on the way to a runaway 77-64 victory at the Galen Center in which they outscored UCLA by 25 points in the second half.

His guys? Cronin acknowledged they didn’t play well. That was about it.

“You want me to come in here and beat my team up?” Cronin told reporters after his team’s second consecutive loss dropped it to 17-4 overall and 8-2 in the Pac-12. “We play freshmen, we’re far from a juggernaut.”

It was reminiscent of the way Cronin responded to his team’s three-game losing streak at the end of the 2020-21 season.

“We’re overachieving,” Cronin said at that point. “They’re giving everything they got. My fear is they run out of gas.”

Those Bruins went on to drop another game, against Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament. What happened next? UCLA rolled off five consecutive victories in the NCAA tournament as part of a remarkable run from the First Four to the Final Four.

These Bruins need a few fixes to make that sort of postseason push, but some perspective is a good place to start. No season ends with two straight losses in late January.

UCLA leads Utah by half a game in the Pac-12 standings at the midpoint of conference play. Everything it wants to achieve this season remains in play. Here are five things the Bruins must do to win their first Pac-12 regular-season title in a decade:

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