UCLA forward Adem Bona (3) scored 22 of his career-high 28 points in the second half while adding nine rebounds, four blocks and two assists during a 75-44 win over Saint Francis on Monday, November 6. 2023 (Courtesy Photo)

Sophomore forward Adem Bona scored 22 of his career-high 28 points in the second half to lead the UCLA Bruins to a 75-44 win over Saint Francis in their season opener on Monday evening at Pauley Pavilion.

Bona returned to the lineup for his first game back after suffering a shoulder injury that sidelined him late last season and right away proved to be the most dominant player on the court on both ends of the floor.

The preseason Naismith Trophy Award honoree added nine rebounds, four blocks and two assists while making multiple highlight-reel plays, converting an efficient 10-of-16 shots from the floor.

“I’ve missed that feeling for a while. I can’t wait to get blocks. I was so excited to get a couple of them, it felt amazing,” said Bona.

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Bruins head coach Mick Cronin secured win No. 100 at UCLA with the victory and improved to a record of 100-36 in Westwood.

UCLA (1-0) shot 50 percent from the field and forced Saint Francis (0-1) into 21 total turnovers and 33 percent shooting. Gestin Liberis led Saint Francis with 12 points, converting 4-of-7 shots from the field.

The Bruins led 32-22 in the first half but led by as many as 31 in the second half after UCLA closed the game on a 10-0 run over the final two and a half minutes of the game.

“If you want to play, it’s real simple. Play defense, solid rebounding, and on offense, when Adem Bona is open in the low post, pass him the ball. You’ll probably be in,” Cronin said.

Bruins senior big man Kenneth Nwuba and Lazar Stefanovic both finished in double digits with 10 points and 11 points, respectively. Stefanovic, a junior forward transfer from Utah also added eight rebounds and a team-best four assists for the Bruins while resting only three and a half minutes on the bench.

“That’s three and a half minutes too much,” Cronin said. “Right now, with all these freshmen, he needs to get in better shape, play 40.”

Freshman guard Sebastian Mack started for the Bruins and finished with nine points while fellow first-year guards, Jan Vide from Slovenia and Ilane Fibleuil from France saw limited action. Turkish freshman forward Berke Buyuktuncel was unable to play while still awaiting clearance from the NCAA.

Freshman center Aday Mara played six minutes in his highly anticipated debut and scored two points but committed two turnovers and was pulled after giving up back-to-back offensive rebounds

“We’re gonna play guys that do what I ask ‘em to do,” Cronin said. “You know, the problem with our team right now is you got guys that I have to play that haven’t earned it yet. So we gotta figure it out on the fly.”

Mara, the 7 ‘3 center from Spain, was recognized as one of 20 student-athletes to the preseason Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watch list, honoring the nation’s best center.

Mara and Bona are expected to present a towering presence for the Bruins down low in the paint as both players can be rim deterrents.

“We have a lot of bigs this year. I think it’s going to be scary with two bigs, and I think we are going to do a lot of great things together with two bigs on the floor,” Bona said.

“Big-to-big connection,” Nwuba said as UCLA’s first eight points of the game were dunks.

UCLA will next host Lafayette (0-1) on Friday evening at Pauley Pavilion at 8 p.m.