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UCLA will need a new defensive strategy if Adem Bona, David Singleton goes against Gonzaga


Mick Cronin has many movies of his teams playing gonzaga.

A few seconds are not approved for all audiences.

Rewatching UCLA’s 2021 Final Four loss on Monday night, the Bruins coach paused as soon as Johnny Juzang’s throwback tied the score with 3.3 seconds remaining in overtime.

There was no need to relive what happened next.

“What the hell do I need to watch that for?” Cronin said Tuesday afternoon. “Do you think I’m a masochist?”

Fortunately for the Bruins, Jalen Suggs is no longer available to shoot 40-footers at the buzzer, having moved on to the NBA. The same goes for Zags stars Andrew Nembhard and Corey Kispert. Even Chet Holmgren, the one-off phenom who tormented the Bruins last season in Las Vegas, has moved on.

There’s still that big irritating man, Drew Timme, who strokes his mustache after every big play. Gonzaga’s 6-foot-10 All-American will be the centerpiece of the game plan for second-seeded UCLA when they take on the third-seeded Zags on Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena. in a West Region semifinal.

“He’s a guy who can always take over a game,” Cronin said. “You can have him under control for 30 minutes, then he can dominate the last 10; he is that kind of guy. He has been doing it for a long time; he is not an easy guy to deal with. He puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”

The big question: Who’s going to play that defense? UCLA’s Adem Bona aggravated his shoulder injury in the second half against Northwestern last weekend, grabbing the box immediately after absorbing contact on a dunk contested in the second half.

Bona was absent for two minutes before returning to make the defensive play of the game. He blocked a driving layup from Wildcats guard Chase Audige, prompting a fast break that ended with David Singleton hitting a 3-pointer to put the Bruins ahead 62-56 with 1:52 to play.

Singleton had to be helped off the field after spraining his ankle with 20 seconds remaining, also leaving his status in question.

UCLA’s David Singleton (34) is helped off the court after injuring his leg against Northwestern in Sacramento on Saturday.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Known for his defense, Cronin played the information blackout Tuesday when a reporter asked for updates on Bona and Singleton.

“Both great guys, that’s all I have to say about it,” Cronin said. “We’ll see. Everyone’s on the go, including me, and you.”

Singleton walked without a limp on his way to the team bus and Bona moved her left arm freely, using it to scratch her head as she walked towards the practice facility.

The absence of either player would severely compromise the depth of a team that no longer has its best defender since Jaylen Clark suffered a lower leg injury in the final game of the regular season.

“There is no time to cry,” Cronin said. “There’s always a way to win a game, so we need to make sure that we’re preparing to find a way to win no matter who plays or doesn’t play.”

Gonzaga forward Drew Timme drives to the rim past TCU guard Micah Peavy.

Gonzaga forward Drew Timme (2) drives to the rim past TCU guard Micah Peavy (0) in the second half of an NCAA second-round tournament Sunday in Denver.

(David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

UCLA split their first two games after Bona hurt his shoulder against Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament, nearly defeating Arizona the next day before defeating North Carolina Asheville in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Backup bigs Kenneth Nwuba and Mac Etienne were standouts in the final game, combining for 20 points, six rebounds and three blocks while hitting all nine shots.

It was all so much fun against a Big South Conference team, one fan even posted a meme on Twitter of Nwuba alongside UCLA greats Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.

Thursday presents a different challenge. Timme is a national player of the year candidate who lost 28 points to Texas Christian in the second round amid a series of fakes and drop steps.

Whoever defends Timme should avoid being deceived with unnecessary contact.

“The hardest thing is preparing for a guy who pressures refs every time he’s in the low post,” Cronin said, “so you have to be able to defend without fouling, which is really difficult with the way he play”.

If Bona can’t play, Cronin could have senior forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. guard Timme despite a three-inch height disadvantage. Jaquez defended Asheville’s Drew Pember in the first round, holding the 6-11 forward to 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting, but Pember isn’t as adept around the basket as Timme.

Since he stepped onto the roster, Bona has been the Bruins’ best inside defenseman. Combining elite athleticism with a 7-4 span that’s the longest on the team, Bona blocked loads of shots, modified many others and, no doubt, kept some from being voted Pac-12 rookie of the year.

Bona’s averages of 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game don’t capture his ability to erase teammates’ defensive mistakes and keep them afloat with his relentless energy.

The Bruins hope he doesn’t join Clark as his biggest fans in his biggest game, cheering from the sideline.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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