Marquette sinks UCLA men’s basketball in opening round of Maui Invitational
Freshman guard Sebastian Mack dribbles the ball against Marquette on Monday. (Courtesy of Brian Spurlock/KemperSports LIVE)
|No. 4 Marquette||71|
Nov. 20, 2023 11:25 p.m.
HONOLULU – Sebastian Mack muscled his way through the lane.
Then, he stood unfazed on the free throw line.
Play after play, the freshman guard steadfastly stared down a veteran squad.
It was only fitting that he would attempt to bury the Bruins’ last ball of the night.
But he would come up empty-handed alongside the Bruins in their overall upset bid Monday night. UCLA men’s basketball (3-1) fell just short of victory in a tightly contested, 71-69 matchup against No. 4 Marquette (4-0) in the first round of the Maui Invitational in Honolulu, Hawaii.
“It took us too long to get our composure back, and that’s where you don’t have a veteran guy – Adem’s a great player, he’s still a sophomore – so that showed,” said coach Mick Cronin. “The second thing it showed was too many defensive breakdowns against their penetration.”
With five minutes left to play and the Bruins down five, Mack dominated both the playmaking and scoreboard to notch five points of his own. His conversions bookended a Marquette make from deep before the Golden Eagles quickly coughed up a steal to junior guard Lazar Stefanovic.
Sophomore center Adem Bona immediately noticed an opening in the lane, laying the ball in to lift the Bruins to a 69-68 lead.
However, a miscommunication swiftly stifled the cause for celebration as the Bruins left guard Sean Jones with an open 3-pointer to seal the game with a two-point final advantage.
Mack finished with a game-high and career-high 25 points alongside six rebounds and two assists. Alongside freshman forward Berke Buyuktuncel in his collegiate debut, Bona and Stefanovic rounded out both the starters and the three Bruins in double digits with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
“I was just trying to do whatever it takes to rally the troops up and do whatever it takes to win,” Mack said. “I’m just a competitor, so if the team needs me to score zero and get 25 assists, I’m with it.”
Neither team dominated the tempo from the jump. The two squads traded early baskets, fouls and single-shot possessions, but one differential emerged as the Bruins outpaced the Golden Eagles in free-throw attempts.
After a series of high screens from the Bruins, Marquette sent UCLA to the line for the fifth time, this time on a 3-pointer. Mack drained all three free throws to help the Bruins extend their lead 16-12. The Golden Eagles answered with a dunk and immediately began pressing.
But the pressure switched hands as Marquette went cold for the next three minutes. UCLA spread the floor and extended its lead to 21-15 with the help of redshirt sophomore guard Will McClendon’s 3-pointer and a statement dunk from Bona over the raised arms of Marquette forward Ben Gold.
McClendon sank three 3-pointers on the night, surpassing his total from the perimeter for the entirety of last season, proving pivotal in a game where Marquette attempted the 3-pointer 34 times total.
“We believe in recruiting guys that are good guys with character, and they may not end up being your best player, but they help you win games,” Cronin said in reference to himself and Marquette coach Shaka Smart. “Will’s one of those guys, so I was very happy for him. … Extremely traumatic knee injury, it’s just been a tough comeback for him.”
UCLA continued playing off pick-and-rolls, granting Stefanovic another successful look on a corner jumper. But the Golden Eagles answered and chipped away at the Bruins’ advantage courtesy of two consecutive 3-pointers. McClendon’s second 3-pointer of the night on the Bruins’ last possession of the half helped UCLA enter the locker room at 35-30.
Mack then ignited an 8-0 UCLA tear to answer a Marquette dagger from deep and commence UCLA’s second-half scoring, finding his way through the lane and converting twice as sophomore guard Dylan Andrews elevated on a corner jumper on the ensuing possession.
The back-and-forth affair of the first half then turned swiftly on its head with just over 15 minutes left in the game and the UCLA lead at 43-33. The Golden Eagles ignited a 17-0 run to stymie the Bruins’ spark and assume their first lead since less than two minutes into the game.
When asked about Marquette’s 17 unanswered points, Bona said the Bruins endured a lull in focus during that stretch.
“We got distracted a little bit and lost sight of the game plan we had,” Bona said.
Towards the end of the game, we got back into the game plan.”
To counter the Marquette tide, freshman guard Illane Fibleuil sank a 3-pointer as the two teams once again began trading baskets. A pair of high screens secured two close baskets for the Bruins as Bona threw down an and-one dunk, and Mack drew the foul on a layup.
After converting both free throws, UCLA pulled within three points. The score stood at 57-54 with just over eight minutes to play before the intensity heightened and the Bruins fought to remain competitive.
“Games like this are good for you,” Cronin said. “It tells you the truth.”