Injuries allow UCLA's other talent to emerge Print
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Wednesday, 02 April 2008 00:31
NCAAB Headline News


 LOS ANGELES (AP) -Ben Howland is known for wanting to control every last detail about his UCLA team. So imagine his reaction when Alfred Aboya couldn't work out because the junior forward had a knot in his back.
Seems Aboya spent Sunday assembling furniture he had bought and was hunched in the same position for three hours while wielding a screwdriver.
``That was poor news,'' an unsmiling Howland said Tuesday.
Aboya downplayed his do-it-yourself adventure, saying his back was all right and he would be fine for this weekend's Final Four. And, the Cameroon native proudly noted, he got the dresser, drawers and other pieces together without reading the directions.
If only UCLA's other injuries this season had been that easily overcome.
Howland was worried about injuries depleting his lineup before the Bruins played their first game, when just 10 scholarship players were available.
``It really does impact what kind of year you're going to have if you're able to stay healthy,'' he said.
The Bruins (35-3) rode out injuries to starters Darren Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and reserves Lorenzo Mata-Real and James Keefe, and now they're headed to a third consecutive Final Four on a 14-game winning streak.
``It shows how strong and deep we are,'' Keefe said.
Freshman Kevin Love nearly avoided the injury bug, hurting his back in the Pac-10 tournament. But that seems a distant memory since Love has anchored the Bruins' NCAA tournament success.
Mbah a Moute's left ankle is still hurting, although not enough to keep him out against Memphis (37-1).
``Ever since my freshman year, this team has had people who can step up. We've had injuries a lot,'' he said.
Collison missed the season's first six games because of a sprained left knee. He was still wearing a brace that limited his movement when the Bruins lost for the first time, by two points to Texas.
Mbah a Moute missed a total of six games with a concussion and a sprained left ankle, which happened twice. Mata-Real missed two games because of a strained groin and a concussion. He's provided a valuable breather for Love after being the starting center on last year's Final Four team.
``We know how to respond to adversity, that's it,'' Collison said. ``James Keefe stepped up in Luc's shoes when he was down. ... It seems like we do that every year. I hope it symbolizes what we do for the Final Four.''
Michael Roll played in six games in December before re-rupturing a tendon in his left foot at the end of that month, causing him to redshirt the rest of the season. That forced Keefe into action after the sophomore thought he was going to redshirt and spend the season working to get back into condition from left shoulder surgery in August.
Now Roll is the cheerleader on the bench dressed in street clothes, while Keefe came up big with 18 points and 12 rebounds - both career highs - in an 88-78 victory over Western Kentucky in the West Region semifinals.
Keefe had already hinted at what he could do when Mbah a Moute got hurt during the Pac-10 tourney. Keefe came in and scored eight points and defended well in a win over Stanford for the title.
``Maybe if (Luc) doesn't hurt his ankle, we don't win against Western Kentucky because James is thrown in there without having the experience,'' Howland said.
Keefe's performance earned him national attention, but he wasn't exactly a slouch before that. The 6-foot-8 sophomore arrived in Westwood as a McDonald's All-American, but the shoulder surgery set him back as did a lack of minutes.
``Minutes are hard to come by on this team,'' he said.
Josh Shipp got through the season unscathed physically, but he's been in a shooting slump during the tournament, going 8-for-27. Mbah a Moute, Keefe and Russell Westbrook's scoring has lessened the impact of Shipp's troubles, but not erased them.
Collison continues to insist he isn't worried about Shipp.
``Josh plays for the biggest games,'' he said. ``Everybody feels like they have a chance to redeem themselves from the last game.''
 

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