November 21, 2008

NEW YORK -- At the 6:08 mark in the second half, UCLA center Alfred Aboya, looking the picture of health, celebrated his fast break dunk, which put the Bruins up 66-50, with a primal scream by center court.

Less than three minutes later, Aboya, who scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds, unloosed another yell, this time by the baseline where he injured his wrist while using it to break his fall after taking a charge. After walking the length of the court to the last seat on his bench, the team trainer cut off the white tape wrapped around his left wrist. "Alfred had his best game as a Bruin tonight," said UCLA coach Ben Howland after his team's 77-60 win over Southern Illinois in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic consolation game. "He also may have also broken his left wrist. This would be really devastating."

Taken to the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases afterward, both an X-Ray and a CT scan showed no breaks, but he will also undergo an MRI procedure when the Bruins return home. If all proves healthy, he could be back by the Bruins' next game Nov. 29 against Florida International at Pauley Pavilion. "He was already sore from taking four charges last night," Howland said.

Couple Aboya's scare with the previous night's upset by Michigan, and Howland's freshmen can now see why their coach preaches to not think ahead to a fourth consecutive final four. Already thin in the post following the losses of Kevin Love, Lorenzo Mata-Real and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to the pros, Howland expects Aboya to guide Drew Gordon (6-8, 235) and J'Mison Morgan (6-10, 248) through their first year. As the lone returning Bruin to play minutes in each of last season's 39 games, the 6-9, 245-pound Cameroon native -- who shot 10 of 13 from the line -- has already made an impression on the newcomers. "He's a monster," said Gordon, who was held scoreless in nine-plus minutes. "He's who I aspire to be and model my game after."

On Friday night the sum of their efforts was nowhere near Aboya's. Gordon, a bouncy freshman from San Jose who had "U.C.L.A." shaved into his head two days before flying to New York, had more fouls (two) than rebounds (one). In six-plus minutes, Morgan, who sat out the Michigan game because Howland felt he would be unable to guard the Wolverines' big men on the perimeter, scored four points and grabbed no rebounds. "Our young guys may be thrust in to do even more if Alfred is out," Howland said.

Looking to his backcourt for solace, Howland found it in the play of senior Darren Collison. In scoring 17 points, he showed the new 3-point line will not affect his stroke as he hit all three of his attempts and penetrated to give out five assists. "My freshman year we came to New York and lost early just like last night," said Collison, referencing the 88-80 loss to Memphis. "We had the talent to make it to the Final Four after that."

Talented as these Bruins are, luck and health -- as they learned Friday night -- will be needed along the way, as well.

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