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UCLA BASKETBALL

Nikola Dragovic's minor illness a relief to Bruins

The injury-riddled UCLA team is happy it is nothing worse as it prepares for its first exhibition game, against Concordia on Wednesday.

November 03, 2009|David Wharton

Halfway through practice, it looked as if the UCLA basketball team had lost another player, forward Nikola Dragovic heading for the locker room with a trainer in tow.

But this wasn't another sprained ankle or sore back. Instead, Dragovic was sick to his stomach, apparently from eating pasta that had been left out too long.

That's how bad it has been for injury-riddled UCLA the last few weeks -- gastric distress starts to look pretty good.

"Food poisoning, he'll get over," Coach Ben Howland said. "It's just unfortunate."

With the team preparing for its first exhibition game against Concordia on Wednesday night, Howland had a relatively large contingent of healthy bodies on the court for Monday's practice.

Only freshman forward Brendan Lane sat out the entire session, because of a sprained ankle.

Guard Michael Roll took part in noncontact drills before wrapping his sore ankle in ice. Point guard Jerime Anderson did even better, lasting about two-thirds of the way.

"The groin's feeling real good, real healthy," Anderson said. "I think they're just easing me back in."

That abundance of caution will continue through the week, with Howland already deciding that Anderson, Roll and Lane will sit out the Concordia game.

The coach did not seem too concerned about who would start the two exhibition games that precede the season opener Nov. 16 against Cal State Fullerton.

"It doesn't matter," Howland said. "Because the starting lineup on Wednesday will not be the starting lineup on the 16th."

Punishment

Even if Dragovic recovers in time for Concordia, he will be on the bench at tip-off.

The senior -- projected as a starter this season -- is being punished for an unexcused absence from a team meeting this week.

"He might have got out of the discipline for missing the mandatory meeting by getting food poisoning," Howland said. "Anything's possible."

Back to school

Reeves Nelson has led the team in rebounds during the last few weeks of practice, but the freshman still has much to learn about college basketball.

"Just the game speed," he said. "I think all the freshmen are used to dominating on their high school teams. This has been really similar to what I went through my freshman year of high school."

On defense, the 6-8, 228-pound forward has worked on covering opponents along the perimeter, focusing on footwork and lateral quickness.

On offense, he's simply trying to be more patient.

"Instead of dominating the ball and getting the majority of shots, I'm just trying to make good plays when I'm open," he said. "Just trying to play solid."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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