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Alfred Aboya shows intestinal fortitude for UCLA

UCLA BASKETBALL

The Bruins' 6-9 center played through severe flu-like symptoms in Thursday's win over Washington. He expects to feel better today.

February 21, 2009|David Wharton

Chances are, Alfred Aboya will feel better today.

The headache should be gone. The cramping too.

When UCLA takes the court against Washington State at Pauley Pavilion, the 6-foot-9 center might even show some of his old spark.

But that doesn't mean his coaches and teammates will forget what he endured for them this week. On Friday, Coach Ben Howland sounded amazed.

"It's absolutely unbelievable how tough he is," Howland said.

Tough as in dragging himself back to practice while suffering the after-effects of a vengeful flu. Tough as in playing 28 minutes against Washington on Thursday night, battling dehydration, contributing 13 points and 11 rebounds to a crucial victory.

"That's definitely what we needed," freshman guard Jrue Holiday said. "That leadership."

Though Aboya stayed at the arena receiving intravenous fluids after everyone else had gone, the senior from Cameroon was already talking about practice the next day.

His team will need him sharp down the stretch, the season transformed into a handful of must-win games as the Bruins try to scramble back for their fourth consecutive Pacific 10 Conference title.

"I'm really tired," he said late Thursday night. "I have to gut it out."

The first sign of trouble arose Sunday after the team's trip to Arizona. Aboya felt so sick that he could not eat for two days, surviving on ginger ale and water.

"He wanted to come to practice," Holiday said. "But they thought he was contagious."

After sneaking in a workout Wednesday, Aboya had to take the court against Washington's rebounding machine, 6-7, 255-pound Jon Brockman.

"I was out of energy the first play of the game," he said. "Two minutes into the game and I looked at the coach and told him that I needed to come out."

Illness had weakened him, a couple of normally reliable shots bouncing off the rim. Then came the dehydration and cramps. Brockman added to the list of ailments.

"I got hit on the head," Aboya said. "So I've got a headache."

When the Bruins came off the court at halftime, athletic trainer Carrie Rubertino Shearer informed Howland that Aboya would be pulled aside.

"We're going to put an IV in him," Howland recalled her saying. "Put half a bag in him."

But Aboya was so dehydrated that she could not find a vein big enough, the coach said. Meeting with his assistants and then the team, Howland did not know about the failed IV until later.

Aboya didn't say a word, simply walked back onto the court in the second half and scored a quick basket off a missed three-point attempt by Nikola Dragovic.

There was more to come as Aboya's five points and a timely assist in the last five or so minutes helped secure victory.

"Alfred's a tough guy," swingman Josh Shipp said. "It's nothing new to us."

So the Bruins expect him to come up big again today. If the Huskies were quick and intensely physical, Washington State presents a different challenge with its patient offense.

"They want to wear you down by making you play defense," Howland said. "It's like a ball-control offense in football."

Like football? UCLA has a center who just might be tough enough for that.

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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