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UCLA BASKETBALL

Alfred Aboya is happening for UCLA

Long a strong defensive player, center is becoming a factor on offense.

February 11, 2009|David Wharton

Give Alfred Aboya a chance to brag. Tell the UCLA center that he is emerging as a star.

"I don't think so," he says. "It's a team deal."

But with the 11th-ranked Bruins heading to Arizona State on Thursday, it's hard to ignore the numbers.

In the last two weeks, Aboya has averaged 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds, and ranks third in the Pacific 10 Conference with 59% shooting.

"I just think he's a consummate winner," Arizona State Coach Herb Sendek said. "He has improved offensively and is a force on that end of the floor."

The Bruins' center has been particularly effective with the 12-foot jump shot.

"He's playing with a lot of confidence," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "Our team is doing a good job of finding him in the interior, feeding him the ball, and he's doing a good job delivering."

The senior has also drawn praise for his defense -- while Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday work to pressure the ballhandler, Aboya denies the post feed.

The last two big men to face the Bruins came away all but empty-handed, USC's Taj Gibson scoring two points and Notre Dame's Luke Harangody limited to five.

Back trouble

Aboya might have to shoulder more of the burden against Arizona State with freshman big man Drew Gordon suffering from back spasms.

Gordon's lower back flared up against Notre Dame when he got bumped going for a rebound.

"It hurt so bad," he said.

After several days of stretching and physical therapy, a still-tender Gordon participated in Tuesday afternoon's practice.

Also returning were guard Malcolm Lee, recovering from a left ankle sprain, and forward Nikola Dragovic, who along with Collison suffered from flu.

Playing about 11 minutes a game, Gordon is averaging four points and four rebounds.

"In my mind, I'm 100%," he said. "But it's up to the coaches."

Speak of the Devils

Arizona State has injury concerns too, though guard Derek Glasser is expected to return to the court Thursday night.

Glasser suffered a concussion in January, then got knocked to the floor against Oregon and sat out Saturday's game at Oregon State.

The junior ranks second in the Pac-10 in assist-to-turnover ratio, an important statistic for a team that plays patient offense.

"They do a good job of taking care of the basketball," Howland said.

Deep bench

As the season progresses, the Bruins are relying more on their bench, with five reserves getting considerable playing time.

That ranges from swingman Michael Roll, averaging 18.7 minutes, to point guard Jerime Anderson, averaging 9.4, giving Collison valuable rest.

Howland says he believes that fatigue played a role in the way his team stalled down the stretch against Arizona State last month.

"Some of our starters had played too many minutes in a row," he said. "You get a diminishing return on your effort."

If nothing else, the coach said he had learned to trust his freshmen, including Anderson, Gordon and Lee.

"Guys are getting better," he said. "They have 23 games under their belts, so they're more comfortable."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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