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UCLA men’s basketball to face Villanova in 1st true road game of season

Sophomore forward/center Adem Bona puts up a shot over a UC Riverside defender. Bona played just 14 minutes against the Highlanders before fouling out. (Myka Fromm/Assistant Photo editor)

Men's basketball


Villanova
Saturday, 4:00 p.m.

Philadelphia
FOX

By Grace Whitaker

Dec. 6, 2023 5:10 p.m.

This post was updated Dec. 6 at 9:39 p.m.

Sophomore forward/center Adem Bona is the only Bruin who held a consistent starting role last season amid this season’s roster full of fresh talent.

And in the Bruins’ narrow one-point victory over UC Riverside on Thursday, Bona fouled out – only spending 14 minutes on the floor.

Coach Mick Cronin, who missed the game because of illness, said Bona staying in the game is essential to the team’s success.

“On the list of importance is keeping Adem on the floor,” Cronin said. “That’s paramount. You want to start talking about success. He can’t self-eliminate.”

With Bona looking to limit his foul count, UCLA men’s basketball (5-2) will put itself to the test when it faces Villanova (6-4) in Philadelphia on Saturday. The contest will be the Bruins’ first true road game environment of the season, as other prior competitions – those at the Maui Invitational – were played at a neutral site.

In the aforementioned Riverside contest, Bona fouled within the first minute of the game, and of his five committed fouls, two were offensive and two were off a loose ball. During his 14 minutes on the floor, Bona was only able to put up four points.

Bona said he is looking to curb his fouling and knows he needs to stay on the floor.

“I just got to stay disciplined. I can’t pick up the cheap fouls,” Bona said. “Those are fouls I could easily avoid.”

In addition to the loss of Bona during the game, the Bruins suffered defensively while allowing their opponents to go 14-for-32 from behind the arc.

Cronin said the number of 3-pointers and mindless fouls his team forfeited are indicative of its need to refocus on the little things.

“Before you learn how to win, you’ve got to learn how to not lose,” Cronin said. “You’ve got to keep your best players on the floor.”

Villanova averages 74 points per game on a 32.2% shooting mark from the 3-point line, with two of its players – forward Eric Dixon and guard Justin Moore – leading the pack in scoring, averaging 14.4 and 13.3 points per game, respectively. None of its roster averages a 3-point percentage of 40% or above.

UCLA, on the other hand, presents an emerging 3-point threat in redshirt sophomore guard Will McClendon, who has shot at a team-leading 42.1% clip. Prior to this year, McClendon made two 3-pointers during his entire UCLA career.

McClendon said that as his abilities have grown, his belief has followed that trajectory.

“Every time you see the ball go through the hoop, confidence builds,” McClendon said. “So my confidence, it’s really high … as we take this road trip to Villanova.”

UCLA has been unable to break into the AP Top 25 this year, while Villanova just fell out of the rankings after sitting at No. 18. With just four more games in the nonconference schedule, Saturday will begin the final few opportunities for the Bruins to hone their abilities ahead of Pac-12 play.

Bona said his hopes for development as the new month begins extend beyond just himself.

“To be honest, developing the team together, winning more games, playing more as a team, playing cohesively,” Bona said. “It’s more about the team and less about myself right now, trying to get the team together to be able to win more games.”

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Grace Whitaker | Sports senior staff
Whitaker is currently a senior staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats.
Whitaker is currently a senior staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats.
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