The UCLA men’s basketball team will face its first-ranked opponent this season in No. 4 Marquette in the first round of the Maui Invitational on Monday.
This will be UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin’s first opportunity all season to play with 12 scholarship players after 6-foot-9 freshman forward Berke Buyuktuncel was cleared by the NCAA on Thursday morning. Buyuktuncel, an international prospect from Bursa, Turkey, has been touted as a player with NBA potential. He’s been practicing with the team since September and is expected to make his season debut versus Marquette, per Cronin.
“We’re just way behind because we haven’t played with our three best NBA prospects (Adem Bona, Aday Mara and Buyuktuncel), one of them Monday will be his first game,” Cronin said at the Maui Invitational press conference Sunday. “So we’re just behind. We’ve got talent, we’re just young, but we all go through it.”
The Maui Invitational has moved to the island of Oahu because of the fires in Lahaina earlier this year.
Here’s what you need to know about the nonconference matchup:
UCLA VS. MARQUETTE
When: Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu
TV/Radio: ESPN2/ AM 1150
Records: UCLA 3-0; Marquette 3-0
UCLA’s latest result: The Bruins are coming off a comfortable 78-58 win against Long Island in a nonconference matchup Wednesday. It was 7-foot-3 freshman center Aday Mara’s first start alongside 6-foot-10 sophomore power forward Adem Bona. The duo combined for 34 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks, taking advantage of a distinct size advantage on offense and defense.
Marquette’s latest result: Marquette is coming off a 71-64 win at No. 23 Illinois on Tuesday. The reigning Big East player of the year senior guard Tyler Kolek shook off an apparent ankle injury to score a game-high 24 points. The 6-foot-3 Kolek added six rebounds and four assists.
Matchup to watch: The Bruins are 4-0 all-time versus Marquette but the Golden Eagles will start two seniors and two juniors versus UCLA, whose only upperclassman in the starting lineup will likely be junior guard Lazar Stefanovic, who transferred from Utah. Marquette has dynamic guard play in Kolek and Kam Jones, who will be looking for redemption after losing 67-56 at home to UCLA in Dec. 2021.
The matchup to watch will be 6-foot-11 senior Oso Ighodaro, who is averaging 13.0 points and 8.7 rebounds on 65% shooting from the field, against Mara, Bona and Buyuktuncel, when Coach Cronin inserts him into the team’s 12-person rotation.
“From what I know about Marquette, I know they’re a really experienced team,” Bona said. “They’ve got guys who have played together for years and we do respect them. I think we’ve got good plan. Obviously, Coach Cronin is definitely going to come up with a game plan.
“It’s also exciting to be playing Marquette on national TV so we are excited and we are going to be ready to go against them.”
UCLA trends to watch: It will be interesting to see how UCLA responds to playing three games in three days in the invitational’s eight-team bracket, regardless of opponents like Kansas, Chaminade, Tennessee, Syracuse, Purdue or Gonzaga.
“We’re all going to get better because we’re here, so you have to know that no matter what happens,” Cronin said.
If UCLA beats Marquette they will face the winner of the Kansas vs. Chaminade game. If UCLA loses to Marquette, they will face the loser of the aforementioned game.
The Bruins, who will play in the tournament for the first time since 2019, will likely start Mara alongside Bona going forward. UCLA’s frontcourt will be bolstered by the availability of Buyuktuncel, a 6-9, 245-pound forward, who Cronin described as a versatile player who can play inside and outside like Miami Heat rookie and beloved former Bruin Jaime Jaquez Jr.