Trying to incorporate three talented freshmen into its rotation, UCLA could ill-afford an injury to one of its senior leaders.
Fortunately for the Bruins, starting center Alfred Aboya is expected to play Saturday when they host Florida International at Pauley Pavilion.
Aboya scored a career-high 22 points in a 77-60 victory over Southern Illinois in the consolation game of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York on Nov. 21, but No. 13 UCLA (3-1) had some anxious moments after he landed hard taking a charge late in the game.
Coach Ben Howland feared Aboya had broken his left wrist, but tests in New York came back negative, as did an MRI after the team returned to Los Angeles.
“He is so tough,” Howland said of Aboya, who went 6 of 8 from the field, 10 of 13 from the line and pulled down a season-high eight rebounds. “He made his foul shots. We went to him inside. He did a great job on the boards. He was really good around the basket.”
Aboya is one of the steadying influences on the Bruins, who boast talented newcomers in Jrue Holiday, J’Mison Morgan and Malcolm Lee. Holiday is the only one starting among the trio and is third on UCLA in scoring at 9.5 points per game, while Lee and Morgan have averaged 4.0 and 3.0 points, respectively.
Aboya’s classmates—Darren Collison and Josh Shipp—have had mixed results thus far. Collison, who has reached double figures in all four games, is scoring a team-high 16.0 points per game and made all three of his shots from 3-point range against the Salukis while finishing with 16 points.
Shipp’s struggles, however, continued. The senior swingman, who contemplated leaving for the NBA after last season, went 1-for-4 in the first half and finished with 11 points, but scored most of those late in the game. Shipp who averaged 12.2 points last season while shooting 43.4 percent, has seen those numbers drop to 10.3 points and 37.2 percent through the first four games.
Florida International (3-3) has dropped two straight and three of its last four. The Golden Panthers have struggled offensively, averaging 58.3 points, and scored more than 58 points in just one game—an 80-61 win over Monmouth on Nov. 17.
They are coming off a 65-58 home loss on Wednesday to Cleveland State, getting outscored 25-12 the final 9:12. The Golden Panthers have eight upperclassmen on their 15-man roster, but three of those are junior-college transfers who are trying to mesh with the holdovers.
“We got beat by a very good basketball team that was a little bit more mature than we are right now,” Florida International coach Sergio Rouco said.
Only two players average in double figures—junior forward Nikola Gacessa (10.8 points) and freshman guard Michael Dominguez (10.5).
UCLA, which has won 30 straight non-conference games at Pauley Pavilion against unranked opponents, won the only meeting between the teams, a 92-56 first-round victory that started its run to the 1995 NCAA tournament title.