Adem Bona’s 28 points lead UCLA men’s basketball in win against Saint Francis
Sophomore forward/center Adem Bona releases the ball on a shot over a pair of Saint Francis defenders. With a career-high 28 points, Bona led all scorers during Monday’s contest. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
Nov. 6, 2023 11:34 p.m.
This post was updated Nov. 7 at 10:41 p.m.
Blue and gold confetti sprinkled the student section of Pauley Pavilion as Adem Bona slammed the ball through the net.
Bruin fans weren’t just celebrating the first score of the young season.
They were commemorating the sophomore forward/center’s first basket since March 18 and beckoning their team’s new-look roster to Westwood.
“To put the jersey on again, it’s an amazing feeling playing in Pauley, with the fans, everyone,” Bona said.
Scoring early and often, Bona helped propel UCLA men’s basketball (1-0) to a 75-44 victory over Saint Francis (0-1) in its season opener at Pauley Pavilion on Monday night. Bona paced the Bruins with a career-high 28 points and comprised one piece of a dominant front court that tallied 48 points in the paint.
“The most important thing on offense on this team: … Pass the ball to Adem Bona,” said coach Mick Cronin.
Behind its defensive efforts, UCLA capitalized with 28 points off 21 Saint Francis turnovers and limited the Red Flash to the lowest opponent point total since the 2021-2022 season.
Sophomore guard Dylan Andrews assumed signal-calling duties in his starting debut and showcased his court vision with a no-look pass to assist Bona’s game-opening dunk. The Bruins rattled off two more dunks en route to a 6-0 start, playing through the paint early while forcing four consecutive Saint Francis turnovers.
The spark was short-lived, however, with the Bruins allowing a 6-0 Red Flash run and going 2-for-10 from the field. Cronin said his team’s efforts left something to be desired, citing the learning curve of welcoming eight new players to his roster.
“I’ve got to play guys that may not deserve it,” Cronin said. “That’s the problem with our team right now, is we’ve got guys I’ve got to play that haven’t earned it, so we’ve got to figure it out on the fly.”
With 4:30 to play in the first half, Bona picked up his second foul. As a chorus of boos emanated from the crowd, he threw up his hands and initiated a team huddle.
The Bruins regrouped, extended their 15-5 run to close the half and entered the locker room with a 32-22 lead. UCLA held Saint Francis to 29% from the field through the first 20 minutes while forcing 10 turnovers and shooting 45% with contributions from nine different players.
Bona and redshirt fifth-year forward/center Kenneth Nwuba continued to anchor the Bruins throughout the second half. The two bigs combined for over half of UCLA’s point total on the night at 38 points.
Nwuba said he enjoyed the successful post communication that resulted in converted baskets, specifically the team’s synergy in the paint.
“‘Like’ is not the word. I love it,” Nwuba said. “Like I said with the first four baskets, big-to-big connection, that was amazing.”
Junior guard Lazar Stefanovic had his time in the driver’s seat, motioning for the Bruins to gather up midway through the second half. The Utah transfer commanded the floor with a three-point play and matching defensive discipline to help UCLA stretch its lead to 20.
“Can’t allow yourself to be tired,” Stefanovic said. “That’s something you prepare the whole summer. Preseason and games start, and you’re ready to play as much as he (Cronin) needs you.”
Stefanovic grabbed eight rebounds, dished four assists and notched three steals total. He concluded his first game in Pauley Pavilion as a Bruin with a buzzer-beating jumper to finish with 11 points.
“Right now he’s our best shooter. He’s our best reader of screens,” Cronin said. “He talks the most. He’s our smartest player. … That’s how important he is to us now.”
Bona capped off the night with resounding applause from Pauley Pavilion attendees, sitting down to the tune of a career-high 28 points alongside nine rebounds and four blocks.
When asked about Bona’s career-high performance, Cronin distilled his answer into three words.
“Not a surprise.”