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UCLA 77 SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 60

Bruins don't stumble despite fall

UCLA gets redemptive win a night after losing to Michigan, but Aboya injures his hand. Tests show no broken bones.

November 22, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

NEW YORK — To say that UCLA escaped from New York would be an understatement.

First of all, the No. 4-ranked Bruins got some sorely needed redemption Friday night.

Even better, they survived a major scare when center Alfred Aboya took a hard fall on his left hand but, according to multiple tests, suffered no broken bones.

All of this drama emerged from an otherwise routine 77-60 victory over Southern Illinois in the consolation game of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden.

The redemption part first: The team needed to salve its collective ego after falling to Michigan the night before, an upset that ruined a potential Duke-UCLA matchup in the tournament final.

"I was really disappointed after that loss," guard Darren Collison said. "You want to try to get a win to get a little momentum."

Any good feelings from Friday's victory almost evaporated in the game's final minutes when Aboya took a charge from Southern Illinois center Nick Evans.

"When I hit the floor," Aboya said, "it really hurt."

Trainers gathered around him on the bench and, after the game ended, scrambled to find a medical facility that would take him "where it's not going to be a Friday night, six-hour wait," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.

Though the Bruins are perimeter-oriented, Aboya's importance is clear -- the team would be left to rely on freshmen Drew Gordon and J'mison Morgan in his absence. So Howland rejected the idea of waiting to see doctors in Los Angeles today.

"I just want to know now," he said. "I can't stand not to know."

A few minutes later, Aboya was ushered out of the arena, a hood pulled over his head.

"He does all the little things you need a player to do," Collison said. "And that doesn't show up on the box score."

Two X-rays and a CT scan later -- the tests performed at a nearby hospital -- Aboya had a thick bandage on his hand, but no break. He was scheduled for a precautionary MRI exam in Los Angeles on Monday.

Right up to when he hit the deck, the senior from Cameroon was having a career night.

He scored inside and on jump shots, made 10 of 13 free throws and threw down a pair of dunks.

He also seemed to bond with Jrue Holiday, cutting to the basket and taking passes from the freshman guard on several occasions.

All of which added up to something that does show in the box score: a game- and career-high 22 points and eight rebounds.

"My teammates did a great job of finding me tonight," Aboya said. "That was why I got easy baskets."

UCLA needed his offense.

After two games against teams that preferred a slow pace -- Miami of Ohio and Michigan -- the Bruins seemed a little more comfortable with Southern Illinois. They had room to get up and down the floor, Collison and Holiday scoring from the perimeter and Aboya working inside.

Much as in Thursday's loss to Michigan, UCLA controlled the early going only to allow its opponent back in the game. Southern Illinois guard Kevin Dillard, on his way to 14 points, helped his team close to within a basket at halftime.

But unlike in the Michigan game, UCLA pulled away when the Salukis pulled even at 48-48.

Collison sparked the run, driving the lane and kicking out to Nikola Dragovic for a three-point basket, then doing the honors himself by making a pair of three-pointers for a lead UCLA would never relinquish.

"The score was tied and then we melted down from there," Southern Illinois Coach Chris Lowery said.

Now the Bruins return home feeling a little better with a record of 3-1. They have a week before their next game against Florida International.

And, unless Aboya's MRI test shows something unexpected, they have a week to count their lucky stars.

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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UCLA up next

vs. Florida International, Nov. 29, 4:30 p.m., Prime -- The Bruins return home to face the 2-1 Golden Panthers, who lost, 74-51, to Washington in the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic on Thursday night.

-- David Wharton

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