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Comeback hopes quashed for UCLA men’s basketball in foul-ridden loss to Gonzaga

Junior guard Lazar Stefanovic guards a defender at Pauley Pavilion. Stefanovic scored 16 points in the fifth-place contest of the Maui Invitational. (Emily Tang/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Men’s basketball


No. 11 Gonzaga69
UCLA65

By Lauryn Olina Wang

Nov. 22, 2023 11:48 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 26 at 8:49 p.m.

HONOLULU – Coach Mick Cronin toppled a folding chair in the team huddle midway through the first half.

Down the stretch, “Calm down Mick” chants erupted from Gonzaga’s fanbase.

Frustrated and forced to relegate its choice bigs to the bench for a majority of the matchup, UCLA men’s basketball (4-2) succumbed to No. 11 Gonzaga (4-1) in the fifth-place matchup of the Maui Jim Invitational, 69-65. Both teams combined for 51 fouls, and the Bruins dropped their fourth consecutive game to the Bulldogs in as many seasons by another fittingly narrow margin.

“It’s going to be hard for us to beat the 11th-ranked team in the country, whatever they are, with Adem (sophomore forward/center Adem Bona) playing 21 minutes,” Cronin said. “At this point in the year.”

With 56.1 to play, a sliver of hope shone through for the Bruins.

Junior guard Lazar Stefanovic elevated from the left wing.

Swish. 66-63.

Then a sideline steal but a failed conversion. The few ensuing fouls to resuscitate any opportunity for revenge proved futile.

“You think you’re going to win,” Stefanovic said. “We did execute, and we had a pretty good look that didn’t go in. That’s basketball.”

While a single last-second shot downed UCLA in the past two March Madness encounters between the two teams, one Bulldog caged the Bruins’ defense for the entirety of today’s contest.

Gonzaga forward Anton Watson completed a near-perfect 14-of-15 performance to account for just under half of the Bulldog’s point total on the night with 32.

Watson ignited a decisive 13-1 Gonzaga run with just over 10 minutes to play, seemingly everywhere on the floor. He outmanned the Bruins’ bigs inside and eclipsed the 30-point mark with a make from deep on the left wing.

Freshman guard Sebastian Mack then assumed control of a loose Gonzaga ball, dancing with the sideline but managing to hand it off to sophomore guard Dylan Andrews. However, the Bruins couldn’t capitalize on the other end.

Both teams went cold for the next two minutes until Watson hammered in a dunk over Bona’s outstretched arms.

“Have to take my hat off to Watson, I think he made three 3s last year,” Cronin said. “He was dominant, carried his team to victory.”

From the tip, foul trouble plagued the Bruins’ front court.

In a 38-second span less than four minutes into the matchup, freshman center Aday Mara picked up two fouls, while Bona got called for one. Cronin subsequently sent the two starters to the bench.

Less than a minute later, redshirt senior forward/center Kenneth Nwuba logged his first foul. A shower of expletives emerged from Cronin’s mouth. Nwuba eventually fouled out, while Bona finished with four fouls in his lowest minute total this season.

Five points from freshman forward Berke Buyuktuncel via the free throw line and beyond the arc helped UCLA cut the advantage to 9-8. But UCLA would go on to miss its next 10 attempts as Gonzaga’s lead ballooned to 11 points.

For nearly eight minutes, the Bruins failed to sink a single field goal, contributing to their 31% first-half shooting clip.

A layup from Nwuba ended the drought, but Gonzaga swiftly answered with a dagger from deep. Mack’s 10-point half – of his 16 total points – kept UCLA within striking distance before heading to the locker room, five of which came off a late 3-point play and driving layup.

Behind a 3-point play from Andrews and freshman forward Brandon Williams’ 1-for-2 free throw conversion, UCLA entered the second half down 38-34.

A perimeter look from Stefanovic early in the second half helped UCLA secure its first lead since one minute into the contest, but Gonzaga answered to regain the lead at 40-39. Bona muscled his way in for a floater on the other end – the last time the Bruins would lead in the contest.

“We’re going to get better,” Cronin said. “My goal for this tournament was to get us to learn how hard you have to compete.”

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Lauryn Olina Wang | Sports senior staff
Wang is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women’s basketball, men’s basketball, NIL and football beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women’s basketball, men’s soccer, men’s golf and track and field beats, reporter on the women’s basketball beat and contributor on the men’s and women’s golf beats. Wang is also a fourth-year history major and community engagement and social change minor.
Wang is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women’s basketball, men’s basketball, NIL and football beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women’s basketball, men’s soccer, men’s golf and track and field beats, reporter on the women’s basketball beat and contributor on the men’s and women’s golf beats. Wang is also a fourth-year history major and community engagement and social change minor.
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