Los Angeles, CA – The UCLA Bruins improved to 3-0 after a 78-58 victory over the Long Island University Sharks on Wednesday night. LIU scored the first basket of the game but that was the only lead they held as UCLA cruised for the rest of the contest. Sophomore guard Dylan Andrews did not play due to an undisclosed reason but Jan Vide filled in nicely and had his best game of the young season finishing with 12 points and 7 assists. Adem Bona led the Bruins in scoring with 20 points while Eric Acker and Terell Strickland shared the top spot for the Sharks with 18 points each.
Right from tip-off it was apparent that UCLA was going to impose their size on LIU by starting the 6’10” Bona and 7’3” Aday Mara in the frontcourt. UCLA quickly jumped out to an early double-digit lead and never looked back. The Bruins were just too big and too physical for LIU to handle as they finished the first half with 22 rebounds, 7 of them being offensive boards to LIU’s 11 rebounds. UCLA also attempted 17 free throws in the first half connecting on 11. For the visitors, R.J. Greene had a nice first half with 7 points and was the main source of offense. He is a capable driver with the ball in his hands and earned 3 free throws and created a few layups. Eric Acker chipped in with 4 points and 4 boards as the Sharks went into halftime trailing 35-17.
The second half was much of the same as UCLA nearly doubled up LIU 49-25 five minutes into the second half. However, LIU exploded on offense in the second half scoring 41 points, but just couldn’t string together any stops to ever really make the game close. One of the concerns coming into the season for Mick Cronin’s Bruins was a lack of perimeter shooting, and it continued again as the Bruins broke a 792-game streak of making at least one 3-pointer in a game. UCLA only attempted 6 triples as a team and connected on none.
Bona continued to show why he is considered by many to be a first round pick in the 2024 NBA draft if he declares. Bona was all over the court as usual, dominating the paint on both ends and showing off an improved free throw stroke which many scouts will love to see. Bona, after shooting only 57% from the line last season as a freshman, has gone 14/18 (78%) in the first 3 games of this season so far. He also finished with 20 points for the second time already after having no 20 point games last year.
Mara had his best game this season as he finished with 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Mara is a lanky 7’3” freshman center from Zaragoza, Spain who was a consensus 5 star recruit. Mara was just too big for anyone on LIU to handle as he did a great job protecting the paint and scoring easy buckets on the other end. Not only did he accumulate 4 blocks but there were many times where he deterred an LIU player from even attempting a shot around the rim. Mara also hit two 15-foot jump shots and flashed a nice back to the basket game. One area he needs to improve on is strength as he did have a few rebounds get ripped away.
On the other side, LIU was buoyed by R.J. Greene’s 7 first half points but he really tailed off as the game went on finishing with only 8 points. Terell Strickland (son of 15 year NBA veteran and LIU head coach Rod Strickland) put on a show in the second half as he collected 15 points and all of his 3 threes. Freshman guard Eric Acker was solid all night finishing with 18 points and 5 assists and could be one to watch in the Northeast Conference.
Looking ahead, UCLA will travel to Hawaii as they participate in the Maui Invitational and take on #4 Marquette on Monday night. This will undoubtedly be the first real test for Mick Cronin and the Bruins as they look to stay undefeated and gauge where they’re at. LIU will look to claim their first victory of the season as they travel back east and match-up with Columbia on Tuesday night.