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UCLA 75, CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD 64

Things get better for Bruins on court, worse off it

UCLA overcomes slow start to beat Cal State Bakersfield, 75-64, for its first win of the season, but starting forward Nikola Dragovic is suspended after being charged with felony assault.

November 21, 2009|By David Wharton
  • UCLA's Jerime Anderson (5) and Mike Moser trap Cal State Bakersfield's Donavan Bragg in the first half Friday night.
UCLA's Jerime Anderson (5) and Mike Moser trap Cal State Bakersfield's… (Lori Shepler / Associated…)

An already tough season got a little tougher for the UCLA basketball team on Friday night.

The Bruins woke up from a first-half daze to scramble back and defeat Cal State Bakersfield, 75-64, earning their first victory of the new season.

But they had already suffered a significant loss earlier in the day when the Los Angeles County district attorney's office decided to file a felony assault charge against senior forward Nikola Dragovic.

The charge stemmed from an unspecified incident at a Hollywood concert last month.

"I'm going to meet with him either tonight or tomorrow," said Coach Ben Howland, who suspended Dragovic for the game. "Try to get more information about what happened."

The only returning starter on a young roster, Dragovic was expected to play a leadership role this season. This is not the first time he has been in trouble with the law, however.

Hours before an exhibition game last season, the normally soft-spoken Belgrade native got into an argument with a former girlfriend and was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor battery, accused of pushing her to the ground.

The city attorney's office decided not to file charges after meeting with the player and the alleged victim, though prosecutors left open the possibility that they might revisit the case at any time for up to a year.

On Friday night, it was unclear whether Dragovic's recent legal troubles would have any effect on the prior case.

He had reported the incident to campus police and Howland shortly after it occurred. When the charge was eventually filed, he surrendered to police around 11 a.m. Friday, accompanied by his coach, and was later freed on bail.

"We don't know what the situation is," forward James Keefe said. "We don't know how long he'll be out."

As for the game, the Bruins appeared to sleepwalk through much of the first half, befuddled by Bakersfield's trapping zone defense and committing too many turnovers.

The Roadrunners, meanwhile, gained confidence with each passing minute, guard Stephon Carter guiding his team to an 11-point lead.

"I'm really proud of the kids and the way they competed," Bakersfield Coach Keith Brown said.

The tide began to turn when Keefe got a bullet pass from guard Malcolm Lee and drove to the basket. UCLA went on a 10-0 run to tie the score, 35-35, by halftime.

"Finally, we got settled down and got the ball back to the middle," Howland said. "Once we got the ball to the high post, we were able to attack and get a lot of easy shots attacking the basket."

Though Bakersfield scored first in second half, it was all UCLA after that.

The Bruins, who had shot the ball miserably in a double-overtime loss to Cal State Fullerton in their season opener Monday, built a lead with three-pointers from Jerime Anderson and Michael Roll.

Reeves Nelson, a bright spot in the opener, added a basket from the paint as Howland switched him from power forward to center, where the freshman had fewer complexities to deal with.

It was that kind of night for UCLA, on the court at least, the game looking simpler and the stat sheet offering more to celebrate.

Drew Gordon led the team with 19 points and Roll had 12. Keefe, Lee and Anderson contributed 10 each, with Lee adding six rebounds and five assists.

The Bruins shot 59% -- though they still struggled at 50% on free throws -- and outrebounded Bakersfield, 39-25.

Defensively, they held the Roadrunners to 41% shooting, Carter and Trent Blakley scoring 15 each.

The win was especially important given the Bruins' schedule next week. After a game Monday against Pepper- dine, they get thrown into the fire at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, a tournament featuring top-25 teams such as Butler, Clemson and West Virginia.

They could go into those games without Dragovic. Though Howland declined to speculate on how long the suspension might last, the coach said he would take Dragovic's earlier problem into account.

"We're a very young team," Howland said. "Right now, we're short-handed."

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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