A thumb injury will force UCLA forward Josh Shipp to miss his first game of the season when the 14th-ranked Bruins face Mercer at Pauley Pavilion tonight.
Coach Ben Howland initially said that Shipp jammed his left thumb but would be all right to play. The decision to hold him out came Friday evening when the injury was reexamined.
Howland did not indicate the severity of the injury or how long Shipp might be sidelined. The senior is averaging 11.2 points and leads the team in defensive rebounds. Junior swingman Michael Roll, who is averaging 5.7 points, will start in his place.
Back to basics
In preparing for tonight's game, UCLA spent extra time with something that didn't go so well the last time out.
The Bruins, who shot 39% against Loyola Marymount, skipped a film session to focus on the basics of offense.
"We actually spent an hour of time just shooting the ball," Howland said. "We're always trying to talk about mechanics."
Knees bent. Hands up. Ready to catch and shoot.
"Just like all things in basketball, repetition is key," Howland said, "so we want to have a lot of reps."
UCLA figures to get some open looks from outside against Mercer, which mixes a compact matchup zone with man-to-man defense.
Mind the gap
Perhaps the most unexpected statistic of the season so far has nothing to do with field goals or assists. It is, in fact, a surprisingly small number.
Center Alfred Aboya, who has spent much of his career at UCLA in foul trouble, is averaging only 1.4 personal fouls through nine games. That's a significant drop from last season when he was playing fewer minutes.
Aboya said his previous trouble with the rules of the game stemmed from trying too hard: "If your guy scores, you feel like you're letting your team down."
But this season, Howland talked to him about the importance of staying in the game as the starting center on a squad that tends toward smaller, quicker players.
So now, Aboya said, "when my guy's taking the ball, there's a gap."
The 6-foot-9 senior tries to pace himself, becoming more aggressive on defense as the game goes on.
"It's still been -- knock on wood -- phenomenal that Alfred has not suffered from major foul trouble this year," Howland said.
A slow process
Freshman center J'mison Morgan played a season-high 13 minutes against Loyola Marymount on Wednesday night, which is a big deal for a big man who has struggled to get in shape.
Conditioning has been the key issue since Morgan joined the team.
Last week, after playing four minutes against DePaul, Morgan (and the rest of the team) had a day off, so when he returned to practice, the 6-10, 248-pound player known as "BoBo" was, in Howland's words, "sucking wind."
"We've got to do a better job with BoBo getting him in for conditioning," Howland said.
Still, there have been signs of improvement.
"He's got good hands, he's a pretty good passer," Howland said.
Howland said he was not surprised that the city attorney decided not to file charges in the misdemeanor battery case involving forward Nikola Dragovic.
"That's what I expected, based on what I knew," he said.
Dragovic was arrested in early November for allegedly pushing his live-in girlfriend to the ground during an argument.
Prosecutors have a year from the date of the incident to reconsider the case.
"I'm happy that it's over with and behind us," Howland said.
Reserve guard Mustafa Abdul-Hamid will require surgery for an injured wrist and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 1150.
Where: Pauley Pavilion.
Records: UCLA 7-2,
Record vs. opponent: First meeting.
Update: The Bruins will try for their fourth consecutive victory after a couple of early-season losses. Mercer started a stretch of seven consecutive road games with a loss at Oklahoma State on Wednesday night. A member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, the Bears have defeated Auburn and Alabama this season. They are led by guard James Florence, averaging 16.9 points a game, and forward Daniel Emerson, averaging 14.9 points and 10.2 rebounds.
-- David Wharton