After a short Christmas break -- and some difficulties returning to Los Angeles -- the UCLA basketball players are back at work, practicing Friday night and again this afternoon.
The 13th-ranked Bruins will face Louisiana Tech at Pauley Pavilion on Sunday, a final tuneup before the start of Pacific 10 play next week.
"It's a whole new season within a season," Coach Ben Howland said of the conference opener Friday at Oregon State. "Doing well in our league is how you get into the tournament."
First, UCLA faces a 6-6 Louisiana Tech team led by guard Kyle Gibson, who is averaging 16.5 points. The Bulldogs have size inside with 6-11 Magnum Rolle and 6-10 Kenneth Cooper.
Howland said he expects them to show a number of looks ranging from a 1-3-1 zone to a three-quarter-court press.
"They're constantly changing on defense," he said.
With air travel bogged down nationwide, several UCLA players were having trouble getting flights back from visits home, but no one was expected to miss practice, Howland said.
After victories over Mercer and Wyoming this week, Howland was particularly impressed with two of his freshmen, Malcolm Lee and Drew Gordon.
Backing up Darren Collison at point guard, Lee made a few freshman mistakes but had five assists, four steals and no turnovers in a combined 41 minutes.
He also had a career-high 16 points against Wyoming.
"He's going to be a very good player," Howland said. "He's one of our best on-ball defenders."
However, Lee's left knee "locked up" in practice Friday, Howland said, and he will have an MRI test today.
Gordon played a combined 25 minutes behind Alfred Aboya. Against Wyoming, he had 14 points and 11 rebounds in 15 minutes.
Howland figures the 6-8, 235-pound center has the size to contribute when the conference season begins.
Josh Shipp, who has been recovering from a sprained left thumb, practiced Friday and was listed as probable for Sunday's game.