Those wondering what the giant fuss was about saw it for themselves Wednesday night.
Aday Mara, UCLA’s 7-foot-3 freshman, showed why his addition to the team was such a big deal.
In the span of just a few minutes midway through the second half, Mara buried a feathery jumper, tipped in a loose ball and slipped a bounce pass between two defenders to teammate Jan Vide for a layup, wowing the crowd inside Pauley Pavilion.
Rounding into form nicely in just his third college game after a lengthy layoff from his Spanish club team, Mara recorded career highs across the board to help the Bruins make short work of Long Island during a 78-58 victory.
Mara’s 14 points on six-for-nine shooting to go with four blocks, four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes were a welcome complement to fellow center Adem Bona’s 20 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and three steals.
The Bruins (3-0) already knew about the potential dominance of Bona, a member of the 50-player watch list for the John R. Wooden Award given to the nation’s top player. Mara had been an international man of mystery until the veil of uncertainty came off on a rainy midweek night.
Having never played more than 11 minutes as a Bruin before Wednesday, Mara dominated the undersized Sharks (0-3) with a put-back dunk in the game’s opening minutes. He added a baseline sky hook and three blocks before halftime.
“There’s so much to come from him,” Bona said. “And there’s so much the country hasn’t seen and he’s an amazing player and he’s gonna continue to grow and he’s gonna continue to do amazing things.”
Vide was the beneficiary of another assist from Mara in the second half on a bounce pass as Vide cut toward the basket.
“Playing with him is easy,” Vide said. “Seven-three looking over everything.”
UCLA coach Mick Cronin said Mara needed to get stronger at rebounding and ignoring referee’s bad calls, including an over-the-back foul in the first half.
“Embarrassing call — embarrassing call,” Cronin said. “The guy’s 7-3, he’s allowed to reach for the ball, but people aren’t used to seeing somebody like him. So then he gets the rebound and people are whacking away at him — no call. You know, I can only imagine” what it’s like.
UCLA was so content to make this an inside job that it probably didn’t mind the end of one streak dating back more than two decades. The Bruins missed all five of their three-point attempts, ending a streak of 792 consecutive games with at least one made three-pointer. The last time they came up empty from beyond the arc was at home against Stanford on Feb. 3, 2000.
Vide added 12 points and seven assists off the bench and Sebastian Mack had 11 points, three rebounds and two steals along with a team-high four turnovers.
Cronin went with a new starting lineup, possibly realizing it was a good time to tinker against a winless opponent coming off a 35-point loss to Pepperdine. Along with regulars Lazar Stefanovic and Bona, Cronin started Mara plus Mack and Will McClendon. Cronin said sophomore point guard Dylan Andrews did not play because of a coach’s decision stemming from unspecified reasons.
Cronin wasn’t happy with his team’s 14 turnovers or its defense after taking a 30-point lead with 11:16 left in the game.
“We don’t have enough guys who can play hard enough long enough,” Cronin said. “I’ve got my work cut out for me – young team, we’ve got to learn the things that we need to do to give ourselves a chance in a real game.”
The Bruins played a third consecutive game without freshman forward Berke Buyuktuncel, who is awaiting clearance from the NCAA after having arrived in September from Turkey.
The Bruins could use a full roster during their next game. They open the Maui Invitational against No. 4 Marquette on Monday in Honolulu after the premier early season tournament was moved to a different Hawaiian island in the wake of the Maui wildfires.