Keeping it in the UCLA family, Adem Bona wins Pac-12 defensive player of the year

UCLA forward Adem Bona jumps and blocks a shot attempt by California guard Jaylon Tyson
UCLA forward Adem Bona blocks a shot by California guard Jaylon Tyson (20) on Feb. 10. Bona earned Pac-12 defensive player of the year. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Pinpointing his team’s primary defensive weakness, Mick Cronin ticked off half his playing rotation.

“Sebastian, Jan, Berke, Brandon and Will, they get beat every time somebody dribbles the ball,” the UCLA coach said after a recent loss to Arizona, referring to Sebastian Mack, Jan Vide, Berke Buyuktuncel and Will McClendon. “Most teams, they have to run stuff to hurt you; all you’ve got to do is drive by us.”

Fortunately for the Bruins, they usually have Adem Bona waiting at the rim.

One of the nation’s top shot-blockers, Bona on Tuesday was selected the Pac-12 Conference’s defensive player of the year. It’s the second consecutive year that UCLA has won the award after Jaylen Clark was honored last season.

“It means a lot to me,” said Bona, who was the conference’s freshman of the year last season. “One, keeping it in the family. Last year, my teammate Jaylen Clark won the award and this year I’m honored to be named the defensive player of the year and also I want to give credit to my teammates. It wasn’t just me out there, it was all five of us playing the game and we all did the job together and it means a lot to me and it has been one of my goals to be named defensive player of the year.”

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Bona also was selected to the Pac-12’s first team alongside conference player of the year Caleb Love of Arizona and freshman of the year Myles Rice of Washington State. The others on the 10-player first team were Arizona’s Oumar Ballo, Washington’s Keion Brooks Jr., Utah’s Brandon Carlson, Oregon’s N’Faly Dante, Colorado’s KJ Simpson, California’s Jaylon Tyson and Washington State’s Isaac Jones.

Washington State’s Kyle Smith was the coach of the year, Stanford’s Maxime Raynaud was the most improved player and Washington’s Koren Johnson was the sixth man of the year.

USC’s Boogie Ellis was part of the five-player second team and USC’s Isaiah Collier and UCLA’s Mack made the five-player all-freshman team. USC’s Kobe Johnson made the all-defensive team alongside Bona.

Bona’s 1.8 blocks per game were the second most in the Pac-12, trailing only USC center Joshua Morgan’s 2.2. Bona also averaged 12.4 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 58.5% and serving as the centerpiece of a defense that gave up a conference-low 65.7 points per game.

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According to College Basketball Reference, Bona led the Pac-12 in defensive plus-minus (4.7), ranked second in defensive rating (96.1) and third in defensive win shares (1.8), the conference’s only player to make the top five in all three categories.

Bona became the fourth UCLA player to win defensive player of the year, joining Clark, Russell Westbrook (2008) and Nigel Miguel (1985). Bona will try to emulate Clark one more time as one of 15 candidates for the Naismith Trophy Defensive Player of the Year — the same award Clark won last year on his way to the NBA.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.