Injured UCLA Faces Chico State

UCLA will play its second and final exhibition tonight against what will likely be a poor Chico State team. It will be interesting to watch how Ben Howland uses the game to get some players meaningful experience with three key scholarship players out because of injury...

Chico State, a Division 2 program, comes to Pauley Pavilion tonight for UCLA's second exhibition game.

The big development is the loss of Mike Roll for 4-6 weeks because of a rupture of his plantar fascia. Also, point guard Darren Collison will miss the exhibition with a knee strain, and is actually questionable for the season opener against Portland State Friday night.

So, for this exhibition against Chico State, we're going to see other Bruins getting more playing time. Sophomore guard Russell Westbrook will be the primary recipient of minutes. He started the first exhibition game at the two guard spot, but will now take over point guard duties with Collison out. Without great depth at the guard position to begin with, and now losing two guards, it seems likely UCLA will go with a bigger lineup, moving Josh Shipp to the two, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to the three, and either a lineup of Kevin Love and Alfred Aboya at the five and four, or Love and Lorenzo Mata-Real at the four and five.

Without Collison and Roll, UCLA becomes a far more interior-oriented team. Nikola Dragovic and freshman Chace Stanback will get their chance on the perimeter, to see if they have the potential to provide good back-up minutes with Collison and Roll being out. If Collison is out for any extended amount of time, it will be critical for Westbrook to learn how to remain on the floor and out of foul trouble. Just speculating, but we'd assume that Shipp will be used as Westbrook's back-up at the point, but assume that Westbrook will play 35+ minutes per game when Collison is out.

One other injury to consider is Shipp's sprained thumb. Shipp missed some of practice on Saturday because of it, but he's supposed to play tonight.

It's amazing the difference in the program in just a couple of days, with the injuries to Roll, Collison and Shipp. And those are in addition to James Keefe being out until mid-December with a shoulder injury.

So, UCLA is currently down three scholarship players, which leaves them just eight.

Luckily, though, college basketball has a playoff system intact called the NCAA Tournament, as opposed to college football, where if you lose a game or two you're probably out of the NCAA championship race. If UCLA, perhaps, drops a couple of games early because of injuries, it very likely wouldn't hurt them much in March in terms of NCAA tournament seeding. And it could work in UCLA's favor, getting Westbrook invaluable experience, as well as possibly developing more depth with Stanback and Dragovic.

And that's what will be UCLA's objective tonight against Chico State. The Wildcats, however, shouldn't provide as much resistance as Azusa Pacific did last Friday. Chico State is coming off a 7-20 season, and they've lost nine players from that team and return just six. They also return only one starter. The top returning player is Justin Argenal, a 6-0 junior point guard, and a probable starter is returnee Frank Igbekoyi, a 6-8, 235-pound sophomore center. He'll provide UCLA's post players at least a bit of a challenge inside. Mike Martin is a 6-7 senior forward who transferred from Hawaii-Hilo who can score (averaging 17 points per game last season). They also will probabaly feature two new freshmen: 6-6 guard Steve Brown, who is originally from Palo Alto High but spent a year at St. Thomas More Prep in Connecticut, and Joshua Jackson, a 6-4 forward from Palmdale High.

The things to watch in this game is how Howland tries to compensate in his rotation to make up for just eight available scholarship players, how Westbrook does as the lone ball-handler on the roster and playing 35+ minutes, and whether Howland might actually dip into the walk-ons and give Mustafa Abdul-Hamid some meaningful minutes, to see if he could step up and be a viable back-up option on the perimeter.

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