UCLA unsure whether to play injured Adem Bona in NCAA opener against UNC Asheville

UCLA forward Adem Bona celebrates after scoring against Arizona.
UCLA forward Adem Bona (3) celebrates after scoring against Arizona during the second half March 4 at Pauley Pavilion.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

To sit or not to sit, that remains the question facing Adem Bona.

Should UCLA’s freshman center fight through left-shoulder soreness to play in the Bruins’ NCAA tournament opener against massive underdog North Carolina Asheville on Thursday at the Golden 1 Center or rest in hopes of being closer to full strength in a tougher matchup?

Bona’s level of soreness and ability to contribute are the factors that will determine whether he plays against the Bulldogs, UCLA coach Mick Cronin said Wednesday.


“He’s going to have to play through some soreness at some point if we’re still playing,” Cronin said, adding that Bona continued to progress in his recovery from the injury suffered against Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament. “But he would never be put in harm’s way for his career.”

Bona completed “some stuff” in the team’s practice Wednesday, according to Cronin, and participated in the informal session open to the public. He mostly relied on his right hand in the latter practice, using it for a hook shot in the lane during one drill in which the rest of the team’s big men finished around the rim with their left hands.

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The second-seeded Bruins might be able to persevere without their top interior defender given that senior forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. is expected to draw the big defensive assignment against North Carolina Asheville’s Drew Pember, a 6-foot-11 power forward adept at both shooting three-pointers and drawing fouls.

Pember has made 37.3% of his three-pointers this season and leads all Division I players in free throws attempted (314) and made (262).

“He’s going to be a point of emphasis on the defensive end for sure,” Jaquez said. “I’m excited to take on that challenge.”

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