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UCLA SEASON OPENER

Bruins Don't Look Rusty

Bozeman provides a solid effort after a year off as UCLA gets off to a good start with an 83-70 victory over New Mexico State.

November 16, 2005|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

The passes were crisp, the defense was tight, the shooting was accurate, and, best of all, the legs were solid.

There was much for UCLA Coach Ben Howland to be pleased about in the Bruins' season-opening 83-70 victory over New Mexico State on Tuesday night at Pauley Pavilion in an NIT Season Tip-Off first-round game.

But nothing was more satisfying than the performance of Cedric Bozeman, returning after sitting out all of last season because of a torn knee ligament.

"He's just going to get better and better," said Howland, whose team will next face Temple on Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion. "Remember, he hasn't played basketball in a year, but he has a great feel for the game."

Bozeman played 31 minutes, scored 13 points, making six of nine from the field, and pulled down four rebounds.

And he did so while swinging back and forth between shooting guard and the frontcourt.

"I'm just happy to be back," said the 6-foot-6, 207-pound senior. "I just want to fit in.

"Playing a lot of positions is a challenge. It allows me to do a lot of things."

The heaviest offensive load Tuesday was carried by sophomore guard Arron Afflalo, who scored a career-high 23 points, making eight of 14 from the field, including two of four from three-point range.

Fellow guard Jordan Farmar, showing the skills that earned him the Pacific 10 Conference freshman-of-the-year award last season, and the increased patience and court awareness that comes with a year of experience, had 18 points and a game-high eight assists.

Also bringing a smile to Howland's face was the performance of center Michael Fey.

Fey's numbers (seven points, two rebounds) were nothing to get excited about, but Howland had no complaints.

The point wasn't what Fey did on the court, but merely the fact that he was on the court. Fey started practicing last weekend after finally overcoming a severe groin strain.

"This was only his third day [of contact basketball activity] after sitting out five weeks," Howland said. "He is just going to get better as he gets into better basketball shape."

In New Mexico, the Bruins were facing a team coming off a 6-24 season with only two returning starters.

They are led by Reggie Theus, who was making his collegiate coaching debut after a playing career that stretched from Inglewood High to Nevada Las Vegas to the NBA, where he spent 13 seasons.

The Aggies were led on the court by redshirt junior guard Elijah Ingram, who scored a game-high 24 points (eight of 11 from the field, including four of five from the three-point line).

Midway through the second half, with UCLA cruising along with a 17-point lead, Ingram made back-to-back three pointers to temporarily pull his team back in.

"I had a vision of Ingram playing in the Garden," said Howland, referring to New York's Madison Square Garden, where this tournament concludes next week.

Instead, the Aggies will be going home.

If there was a disappointment for UCLA, it was freshman guard Darren Collison, who had played spectacularly at times in the Bruins' two exhibition games. He had four points and two assists in 12 minutes Tuesday.

"He's a freshman playing on national television for the first time, and he seemed a little starry-eyed," Howland said.

Not Bozeman. He has been there, done that. And, based on his performance Tuesday night, he is back to do it once again.

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