May 23, 2024

Eleven minutes remained in the first half. Every UCLA starter was on the bench.

It looked like they might not need to come back.

Pulverizing undersized Chaminade with their size, the Bruins had rolled to a quick 24-point lead in the teams’ second game of the Maui Invitational. The Silverswords, a tiny college basketball outfit known for the occasional supersized upset, had missed 16 of their first 17 shots, including their first 11 three-pointers.

Then, in a change as swift as an island breeze, everything shifted.

Chaminade made one three-pointer. Then another. And another.

The Bruins committed one turnover. Then another. And another.

It never got truly scary for the Bruins, whose lead never fell into single digits Tuesday afternoon, but their 76-48 victory was not quite the easy afternoon they envisioned after building that big lead.

UCLA’s starters were forced to play more minutes than coach Mick Cronin would have liked ahead of another big-time matchup. After nearly upsetting Marquette on Monday night, the Bruins (4-1) will play No. 11 Gonzaga on Wednesday night in the fifth-place game, the teams’ fourth meeting in as many years, the Bulldogs having won the last three.

Nobody needs to mention Jalen Suggs or Julian Strawther to any Bruins fan faint of heart.

UCLA must recapture the locked-in form it showed in a two-point loss to Marquette, not the sloppiness that led to 14 first-half turnovers against Chaminade, to have any chance against the Bulldogs.

It also would help if freshman guard Sebastian Mack repeated his strong showings of the first two games. Roughly 15 hours after he scored a career-high 25 points against Marquette, Mack went for 16 points, six rebounds and five steals against Chaminade, including seven points in a hurry after the Silverswords (1-4) cut their deficit to 10.

Lazar Stefanovic added 13 points and Aday Mara had 10 rebounds to go with six points and two blocks for UCLA, which prevailed despite committing 18 turnovers, not far off the high (22) of Cronin’s five seasons.

Inserting Mara, its 7-foot-3 freshman, into the starting lineup alongside 6-9 Adem Bona, UCLA was unstoppable early. It probably helped that some of the Bruins’ undersized counterparts stared squarely into their necks.

Mara made an easy layup for the first points and Bona (12 points, six rebounds) soon added a layup off an inbounds pass, a spin move for a layup and a dunk in which he was fouled. The Bruins were on that way to the big lead that put their starters on the bench.

The reserves couldn’t hold things down, failing to close out on three-point shooters and repeatedly turning the ball over. The carelessness continued when UCLA’s starters returned, Chaminade eventually pulling within 30-18.

The rest of the story belonged to the Bruins, even if they didn’t get the rest they wanted.

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