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UCLA BASKETBALL FYI

Ready or not, it's time to play

November 03, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

From Ben Howland's perspective, it doesn't really matter whether his highly touted freshmen -- the nation's top-ranked recruiting class -- are ready to play.

"They have to play," he said.

The UCLA coach gets a glimpse at how the newcomers mesh with guard Darren Collison and other veterans as the Bruins face Cal Baptist in an exhibition at Pauley Pavilion tonight.

The team needs a mix of old and new to compensate for the loss of Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, all of whom left for the professional ranks. That puts pressure on freshmen such as guard Jrue Holiday.

"It's a big step up," Howland said.

"Very, very few freshmen are ready to play right now."

But UCLA still has enough proven talent -- Collison is joined by returners Josh Shipp, James Keefe and Alfred Aboya -- to warrant a No. 4 preseason ranking.

Tonight's first test comes against a Cal Baptist team that is 2-0 and ranked fifth in the NAIA.

Tipoff is at 7:30.

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Charity at home

Former UCLA guard John Vallely turned to his alma mater this weekend for help in his quest to promote cancer research.

Vallely, who played for John Wooden's national championship teams in 1969 and '70, is a cancer survivor and lost a 12-year-old daughter to the disease. On Sunday, he enlisted the basketball team in a "Dribble for the Cure" fund-raiser for the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation and Mattel Children's Hospital.

About 500 people participated, collecting pledges by dribbling along a 1.2-mile course.

"It's a huge thing," said Vallely, who organizes a similar event at USC. "We thought UCLA was a place where we could make a difference."

Players walked the course and signed autographs afterward. Howland vowed to make the fund-raiser an annual event, saying of Vallely: "He's part of our Bruin family."

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Injury report

Forward Nikola Dragovic, who has a cyst in his left foot and ankle, participated in most of Saturday's practice and might play tonight, Howland said. Freshman guard Malcolm Lee, nursing a strained right groin, looked good in drills, the coach said.

No update was available on Aboya, who has missed practice with a sprained right ankle but walked the course at Sunday's charity event.

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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Up next

UCLA vs.

Cal Baptist (exhibition)

Tonight, 7:30

Pauley Pavilion

USC vs.

Azusa Pacific (exhibition)

Tonight, 7:30

Galen Center

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