UCLA learns valuable lessons in New York

November, 22, 2008
11/22/08
12:25
AM ET

NEW YORK -- UCLA headed home Saturday relieved that the news on senior forward Alfred Aboya was encouraging after X-rays on his left hand were negative Friday night.

The fear was that he broke his hand taking a charge after he produced a much-needed lift with a season-high 22 points and eight boards in a 77-60 win over Southern Illinois.

Aboya will be evaluated with a more extensive MRI when he returns to Los Angeles, but the gloom and doom the Bruins originally professed when they left Madison Square Garden was gone later Friday night.

While the Bruins were encouraged by the news about Aboya, there was a definite realization the Bruins need the three seniors -- Aboya, Darren Collison and Josh Shipp -- to lead them if they have any chance of winning the Pac-10, let alone reaching a fourth straight Final Four.

Collison, Shipp and Aboya were the dominant players against the Salukis in the consolation game of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.

Sure, freshman Jrue Holiday is an immense talent who will lead the Bruins in plenty of games. But this team has to be driven by the three seniors. Aboya scored 22, Collison 17 and Shipp 11 in the win over the Salukis. They were a combined 17-of-20 from the free-throw line.

UCLA was in this event to play Duke in a championship game in New York. The Bruins didn't make it because they lost to Michigan in Thursday's semifinals. But the Bruins leave New York with more of an understanding of who they are and what they need to be the rest of the season.

"This is probably the hardest year of my career,'' Collison said. "I have to be aggressive and make sure the team is on their toes all the time. Last year I had help. This year we have a lot of young guys.

"As soon as the freshmen are on the same page it will take a lot of pressure off me going through the season.''

Aboya said later Friday night through a team spokesman that the Bruins did a good job of finding him inside and "that's why I got easy baskets.''

Shipp added that he struggled against Michigan (2-of-9) and didn't get himself in good position to make plays. He was much more attentive to his role against the Salukis.

The Bruins aren't the No. 4 team in the country. They were positioned there simply based on last year's performance and the return of Collison. But he has to take over the game more than he showed against Michigan. He was much more assertive against the Salukis. One freshman (Kevin Love) played significant minutes for the Bruins last season. They lost Love, Russell Westbrook, Lorenzo Mata-Real and a key rebounder, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. There was no way this team would be as good as the 2007-08 edition.

Freshmen big men Drew Gordon, J'Mison Morgan and even role-playing James Keefe aren't going to add up to even half of Love. So Aboya has to attempt to produce like he did Friday night before the injury scare.

Final nuggets
• St. John's coach Norm Roberts can't catch a break. The Red Storm lost their best player when senior Anthony Mason Jr. went down Friday with season-ending foot surgery. Mason Jr. averaged 18 points in two games earlier in the week in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Red Storm are headed toward another bottom-six finish in the Big East. That might have happened with Mason Jr., but without him it's a virtual certainty.

• The Paradise Jam should have put Miami and Connecticut on opposite brackets. Those are clearly the two best teams in the field, and they will meet in the semifinals. San Diego and Wisconsin will meet in the other bracket. The Jam nearly had a USD-Iona semifinal, but the Badgers defeated the Gaels in overtime Friday.

Stephen Curry continued his assault on the scorebook, scoring 30 points and dishing out 13 assists in Davidson's win over Winthrop.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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