UCLA men's basketball team hopes to continue their winning ways
January 19, 2023
Freshman sensation Adem Bona and the UCLA men's basketball team are beginning to look like a group that will be playing deep into March. The Bruins extended their winning streak to 13 games after back-to-back home wins over the Utah Utes and the Colorado Buffs. With the two victories, the Bruins moved to No. 5 in the nation in the AP rankings. The Bruins are 16-2 for the season and 7-0 in the Pac-12 conference.
The Bruins defeated the Utah Utes, 68-49 on Thursday Night at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood and then came from behind on Saturday night to defeat the Colorado Buffalos, 68-54. Bona, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for the past two weeks, had 15 points on 7 of 9 shooting from the floor, and grabbed 8 rebounds against the Utes. Point guard Tyger Campbell led the Bruins with 17 points and seven assists in the victory over the Utes.
Against Colorado, the Bruins struggled to hit open shots and trailed 44-35 at 10:21 mark of the second half after a three-point play from Colorado guard K.J. Simpson. Then Bona led a 17-0 charge to give the Bruins a 52-44 lead and the Bruins never looked back.
Bona scored seven points and had two block shots in the 17-0 run that decided the contest. Forward Jaime Jaquez led the Bruins with 23 points, 13 rebounds, five blocked shots and four steals. Simpson, a four-star recruit from Chaminade high school in West Hills, led the Buffalos with 17 points.
After the win over the Utes, UCLA head coach Mick Cronin talked about the effort that was needed to defeat the Utes at home. "Utah is having a really good year, Cronin said. "Craig's [Smith, head coach] second year, so really proud of this win. To be able to shoot almost 50% against them, I don't think they give up 36%, we had 21 assists tonight so I'm really happy with that."
The Bruins are led by their three veteran stars: Campbell, Jaquez, and forward Jaylen Clark. All three were members of the 2021 team that went to the Final Four. Bona brings size, athleticism, and energy that is rare. Cronin has compared Bona's competitive spirit to Kevin Garnett, the NBA Hall-of-Famer. Cronin thinks Bona has an NBA future.
"He's a young kid, he's an elite athlete, tremendous explosiveness, great attitude," Cronin said. "The one thing I've learned is your rate of improvement is depending on what you do every day, and how fast you can pick things up. He reminds me a lot of Kenyon Martin, the smartest basketball player I ever coached. Adem is really basketball intelligent, and he's only a freshman. He's an NBA player."
The Bruins had 41 pass deflections in the game against the Utes, 21 assists, eight steals, 14 offensive rebounds and eight blocked shots. Backup center Kenneth Nwuba had five blocked shots against the Utes. Against the Buffs, UCLA had 55 deflections, 18 offensive rebounds, 15 steals, and 11 blocked shots.
Utah Head Coach Craig Smith had nothing but praise for the Bruins. "Congratulations to UCLA," Smith said. "They are a very elite team, and you don't get ranked at number seven unless you are a good team. We looked at the game from last year and they're a much better team. Their defense is impeccable. They guard the ball. They have tremendous length, and they have high-rim protection with Bona. Also, (Jaylen) Clark could be up for defensive player of the year."
Smith added, "I think we can really learn a lot from tonight. We're going to watch film and see what it takes to be a top-ten team. They (UCLA) have no holes and we'll learn from them. We played a lot of guys tonight, so hopefully, they will learn from this. We don't want to be UCLA, but we want to be our own version of a top-ten team."
This Bruin squad is one of the best defensive teams in the nation and will ride that into the NCAA men's basketball tournament. They don't have to play well offensively to beat an opponent due to their suffocating defense, which they showed against Utah and Colorado.
The Bruins will be traveled to Arizona last Thursday to play Arizona State. Following the game with Sun Devils, the Bruins will travel to Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats. The Saturday morning game is scheduled to begin 11:00 am and will be televised on ABC. The Wildcats are the No. 11 ranked team in the nation with a 15-3 record. All three of their losses have occurred in conference play. In both Tempe and Tucson, the Bruins will be facing raucous crowds. This will be the toughest road test of the season for the Bruins.