Those wondering what the giant fuss was about saw it for themselves Wednesday night.
Aday Mara, UCLA’s 7-foot-3 freshman, showed why his addition to the team was such a big deal.
In the span of just a few minutes midway through the second half, Mara buried a feathery jumper, tipped in a loose ball and slipped a bounce pass between two defenders to teammate Jan Vide for a layup, wowing the crowd inside Pauley Pavilion.
Rounding into form nicely in just his third college game after a lengthy layoff from his Spanish club team, Mara recorded career highs across the board to help the Bruins make short work of Long Island during a 78-58 victory.
Mara’s 14 points on six-for-nine shooting to go with four blocks, four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes were a welcome complement to fellow center Adem Bona’s 20 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and three steals.
The Bruins (3-0) already knew about the potential dominance of Bona, a member of the 50-player watch list for the John R. Wooden Award given to the nation’s top player. Mara had been an international man of mystery until the veil of uncertainty came off on a rainy midweek night.
Having never played more than 11 minutes as a Bruin before Wednesday, Mara dominated the undersized Sharks (0-3) with a put-back dunk in the game’s opening minutes. He added a baseline sky hook and three blocks before halftime.
UCLA was so content to make this an inside job that it probably didn’t mind one streak dating back more than two decades ending. The Bruins missed all four of their three-point attempts, ending a streak of 792 consecutive games with at least one made three-pointer. The last time they came up empty from beyond the arc was at home against Stanford on Feb. 3, 2000.
Vide added 12 points and seven assists off the bench and Sebastian Mack had 11 points, three rebounds and two steals.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin went with a new starting lineup, possibly realizing it was a good time to tinker against a winless opponent coming off a 35-point loss to Pepperdine.
Along with regulars Lazar Stefanovic and Bona, Cronin started Mara plus Mack and Will McClendon.
It was total domination from UCLA’s post players. Bona, Mara, Kenneth Nwuba and Devin Williams combined for 20 points and 11 rebounds to power the Bruins to a 35-17 halftime lead.
The Bruins played a third consecutive game without freshman forward Berke Buyuktuncel, who is awaiting clearance from the NCAA after having arrived in September from Turkey. Sophomore guard Dylan Andrews also did not play for the first time this season, though the reason for his absence was not immediately known.
The Bruins could use a full roster in their next game. They open the Maui Invitational against No. 4 Marquette on Monday in Honolulu after the premier early-season tournament was moved to a different Hawaiian island in the wake of the Maui wildfires.