|No. 2 UCLA is banged up heading into season opener|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 08 November 2007 17:59|
LOS ANGELES (AP) -Ben Howland's worst fears are coming true before UCLA plays its season opener.|
With only 10 scholarship players available, the coach of the second-ranked Bruins was worried about injuries decimating his lineup. He had a right to be concerned since various players were sidelined throughout preseason practices.
``You don't control those things as a coach and that's tough,'' Howland said.
The Bruins could likely open the season Friday night at home against Portland State without starting point guard Darren Collison, a preseason All-American. He was listed as doubtful because of a sprained left knee.
Guard Josh Shipp, last season's second-leading scorer, had offseason surgery on his left hip, the same surgery he had on his right hip two years ago. His early practices went well until he sprained his right thumb, which left him as probable to play Friday night.
Don't look for guard Michael Roll, who will miss three to five weeks because of an injured left foot. Forward James Keefe, recovering from offseason foot surgery, could return in early December.
Center Lorenzo Mata-Real, who started every game last season, had a sprained foot that limited him.
``No one has a season-ending injury, so that is good news,'' Howland said.
The best news of all for the Bruins is the arrival of Kevin Love, one of the nation's most highly touted recruits. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound center had double-figure scoring and rebounding efforts in UCLA's two exhibition games.
Love will crack the starting lineup immediately, giving the Bruins the dominant low post presence they've lacked in recent years. Love and Mata-Real figure to play together when Howland goes with a big lineup, and when he's double-teamed, Love's outlet passes have been compared to those of former UCLA star Bill Walton.
``He's better than advertised,'' Collison said. ``Kevin is acting like he's been here before.''
Howland downplays the inevitable comparisons between Love and Walton, who was ineligible as a freshman before the Bruins went undefeated in his first two seasons.
``Will we go 60-0 in Kevin's first two years at UCLA? Very unlikely,'' Howland said. ``To be compared to a player like Bill Walton is unfair to Kevin. He has an incredible talent and is a very, very special player. That's like comparing someone to Michael Jordan. There's only one Jordan.''
The Bruins are coming off consecutive Final Four appearances, losing to Florida the last two years. The current expectations are that Love will get the Bruins back there, and lead them to the school's 12th national championship.
``I just expect to help my team win,'' he said. ``I never really feel pressure, I just feel anxiousness to play. I can already tell that this team has something special that other teams might not have.''
What the Bruins don't have is leading scorer Arron Afflalo, who was a first-round pick of the Detroit Pistons after giving up his senior year of eligibility. Afflalo was the team's defensive stopper and made countless big shots.
But Shipp will likely fill Afflalo's spot on the floor, with Russell Westbrook - who'll back up Collison at the point - also able to play shooting guard.
``Provided we stay healthy, we have a chance to have a really good year,'' Howland said.
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