LOS ANGELES (AP) -UCLA's Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are on the mend from injuries sustained in last weekend's Pac-10 tournament, although coach Ben Howland was vague on whether Mbah a Moute would play in Thursday's NCAA tournament opener.
Love, the Pac-10 player and freshman of the year, strained his lower back in the opening minute of Saturday's title game against Stanford. He and the rest of the Bruins (31-3) returned to practice Tuesday after taking two days off.
``He seemed to be in good spirits,'' Howland said. ``He might have been a little sore.''
Love is receiving treatment on his back, but he was not limited in practice. The center is expected to start Thursday against 16th-seeded Mississippi Valley State (17-15), coming in on a nine-game winning streak. The third-ranked Bruins have won 10 in a row.
Mbah a Moute sprained his left ankle for the second time this season in Friday's Pac-10 tourney semifinal win against Southern California and didn't play in the title game. He didn't practice Tuesday because he had a final exam, but he did some light shooting. The junior forward, a veteran of consecutive Final Four appearances, was off crutches and in a walking boot Sunday.
``I assume if he's able to do some light shooting he's not in the walking boot, but I don't know,'' Howland said. ``If he's able to go, we'll play him on Thursday.''
The Bruins will make the 46-mile trip to Anaheim on Wednesday after a morning practice in Westwood. They are scheduled to practice again for 40 minutes that day in front of fans at Honda Center, like all tournament teams. But Howland doesn't like the arrangement.
``You have everybody scouting each other so you won't have a real practice where you'll work on strategic stuff,'' he said. ``You don't really practice.''
Tuesday, the top-seeded Bruins focused on mental preparation for the Delta Devils, who got into the NCAAs for the first time since 1996, defeating Jackson State by one point to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament. Their lineup is dominated by upperclassmen, including 6-foot-10 senior Larry Cox, who will contend with Love in the post. UCLA is favored by 32 points.
Howland has played his starters major minutes this season, but the team's bench saw extra time after the injuries to Love and Mbah a Moute in the Pac-10 tourney. Sophomore forward James Keefe could see more minutes after scoring eight points and defending well in the Bruins' 67-64 victory over Stanford.
``He rebounded well. He finished around the basket, he changed some shots and he was quick to the ball,'' Howland said. ``On the defensive end, he was very, very aggressive.''
Of the four No. 1 seeds - including North Carolina in the East, Memphis in the South, and Kansas in the Midwest - the Bruins have played the most games against NCAA tournament seeds. They are 14-2 against the field, North Carolina is 9-1, Memphis 6-1 and Kansas 8-2.
``I just think our team has played the toughest schedule,'' Howland said. ``Playing that many teams in the tournament, night in, night out, we have played the toughest schedule however you want to look at it.''

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