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UCLA REPORT

Dragovic eligible for Saturday

December 22, 2006|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Freshman forward Nikola Dragovic will be eligible to play Saturday against Michigan after serving a 10-game suspension mandated by the NCAA for his involvement on a club team that was deemed professional. But Coach Ben Howland said Thursday that doesn't mean he'll play.

"That's yet to be determined," Howland said. "I'm sure he'll have an opportunity to play and it starts by earning that in practice so the next two practices will be important for him."

Dragovic, from Serbia, had to sit out 10 games because a player on his club team, Mega Ishrana, received compensation. The number of games Dragovic was suspended equaled the number he played for the team.

He also played for Serbia's under-20 national team, averaging 11.6 points and 5.4 rebounds for a team that won the European under-20 championships in July. Dragovic, who is 6 feet 8, is expected to contribute as a scoring small forward off the bench at UCLA.

Dragovic, who has been practicing with the team, was not available for comment, but teammates said they were looking forward to having him join the rotation.

"He looks good," said swingman Josh Shipp. "He's a good shooter, so [we expect] a lot of offense from him."

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The Bruins have had slow starts against several unheralded opponents, needing a second-half rally to put away Sam Houston State one game after Oakland stayed within a basket for most of the first half.

"We need to stop starting so slow," Shipp said. "It's going to come back to haunt us if we don't."

Arron Afflalo refused to blame the slow starts on uninspired fans or small crowds. The school announced attendance of 7,458 Tuesday against Sam Houston State, down from 8,612 against Oakland and from the season average of 8,356.

"It's up to the players to get the place rocking a little bit," he said. "If our fans are lackadaisical, it's because we are."

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The No. 1-ranked Bruins have been knocked for playing a soft schedule with Cal State Fullerton, UC Riverside, Oakland and San Houston State, but Afflalo said those games could prove beneficial in the long run.

"The teams we're playing against may be the teams we see in the first round of the NCAA tournament," he said. "They may be a 15 seed or a 16 seed. You can't always play 1 or 2 seeds through the course of the season because if you do play against a team like that, you have to be prepared for them as well."

peter.yoon@latimes.com

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