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November 3, 2006UCLA methodically dismantled overmatch Division II Cal Poly Pomona on Thursday evening in the Bruins first exhibition of the new season. Ben Howland and his crew were paced in three categories by All-American candidate Arron Afflalo, who finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
UCLA jumped out early in this one, taking a 12-3 edge at the 16:30 mark of the first half, and eventually leading the Broncos 42-25 at the half. The Bruins extended their lead to 35 points towards the end of the second half before finishing off Pomona, 73-43 in front of over 5,700 at Pauley Pavilion.
Afflalo exhibited the kind of dominance many observers of his summer exploits have come to expect from the 6-foot-5 junior shooting guard. He's developed a better handle, bulked up a bit and has tightened up his shot since most Bruin fans last saw him nearly seven months ago.
UCLA followers should expect Afflalo to not only be the leader on this team, but also be the Pac-10 player of the year and one of the very best players in America.
While those are lofty expectations, Afflalo has most certainly earned the hype, looking like a man amongst boys more often than not over the past few months.
Josh Shipp made his return to the Bruin line-up on Thursday evening displaying that familiar smooth style of play UCLA fans have grown to expect from the sophomore. Shipp scored 16 points in 22 minutes of action, looking like a guy who will provide that much needed scoring punch with the void left by Jordan Farmar in the off-season.
Speaking of Farmar, the 19 year old Lakers rookie was in attendance along with other Bruin stars Billy Knight and Earl Watson, the Seattle Supersonics PG in town to play Farmar's Lakers Friday night at Staples Center.
Darren Collison seems to be taking to the role of starting point guard nicely as he displayed terrific ball-handling and quickness over the course of the exhibition. His shot, while still quite awkward looking, was effective on Thursday night as he cashed in on a long three-point jumper, and ended the game shooting 60% from the floor.
Collison did however appear to fall into some of the bad habits which plagued him a season ago as he over penetrated a few times and also sped his game up to a level which was detrimental to the team upon occasion. These are things which should be ironed out with the experience of running the team full time, and through the teaching of Coach Howland over the next few weeks of practice.
Aside from a few turnovers, Collison's back-up, true freshman point guard Russell Westbrook endeared himself to the Pauley crowd in his debut. The 6-foot-3 guard from Leuzinger High in Lawndale showed good quickness and athleticism, and surprised many observers by displaying an ability to run the team with Collison out of the game.
Westbrook didn't force many things, and showed his nose for the ball by garnering 4 rebounds from the lead guard spot to go along with two points and two assists in his 16 minutes of action. Bruin fans and coaches alike should be pleased, perhaps even relieved that they have found themselves a competent back-up at a position which looked to be a major concern over the summer.
Mike Roll, perhaps the team's most improved player, looks quicker, lighter and more athletic than he did a season ago. Roll connected on only one three pointer on Thursday, but was more active than we'd seen from him last season, even fighting for a rebound inside before muscling up a basket while being fouled.
Roll will provide valuable shooting and ball handling off the bench this season as he is expected to play around 15-18 minutes a night for the Bruins.
Nikola Dragovic appeared a bit overwhelmed in his college debut. He fumbled a few passes tossed his way, only attempted one three-point shot and did not score on Thursday evening. We anticipate his development will be a bit drawn out because of his background playing European basketball with the subtle differences potentially affecting his immediate impact on this year's Bruin team.
James Keefe gave a great effort in his first appearance in a Bruin uniform. His seven rebounds were tied for the team lead with Afflalo and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, while his activity all over the floor impressed the home crowd.
Keefe struggled at the free throw line along with most of the Bruins, but did garner a blocked shot and put in four points in 19 minutes of action.
Ryan Wright, Alfred Aboya and Mbah a Moute were solid this evening inside for the Bruins. All were efficient with their minutes on the floor, and all showed good activity throughout the game, much as they did over the course of last season.
While much has been made of Aboya and Luc's improved shooting ability, there wasn't much evidence of that in this contest, although their contributions to the team on the inside will be very valuable as the season progresses.
All in all it was a solid but not spectacular effort, but one which was to be expected in the first of two exhibitions for the Bruins.
In all truth, time on the floor together as a group without the departed stars from a season ago will be the most beneficial aspect of these two preseason games, and with roles quickly being defined, Ben Howland will clearly get a better feel for what he has to work with by the time BYU rolls into town on November 15th.
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