Loyola Marymount-UCLA Preview

Despite losing two of last season’s top three scorers, UCLA

enters 2011-12 with high expectations thanks to its tremendous

frontline duo of Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith.

While Smith looks poised to build on his impressive freshman

campaign, Nelson’s status for Friday night’s opener remains unclear

after suffering a left ankle injury earlier in the week.

The 17th-ranked Bruins could be short-handed when they face

Loyola Marymount at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, where they’ll

play the majority of their home games while Pauley Pavilion

undergoes renovations.

After missing out on the 2010 NCAA tournament, UCLA bounced back

to finish second in the Pac-10 last season, posting a 23-11 record

overall and 13-5 mark in conference play. The Bruins went on to

defeat Michigan State 78-76 in the second round of the NCAAs before

falling to second-seeded Florida 73-65.

While it won’t be easy to replace Malcolm Lee and Tyler

Honeycutt, who averaged a combined 25.9 points last season before

leaving early for the NBA draft, the Bruins like their chances of

contending in the Pac-12.

“It just makes all the returning players more confident and then

it gives the people coming in something to kind of live up to and

know what’s expected of them,” Nelson said. “We’re just going to

try and build on that and pick up where we left off.”

Nelson, who finished third in the conference with an average of

9.1 rebounds and first on the team with 13.9 points per game in

2010-11, was injured during Tuesday’s practice. X-rays came back

negative and while coach Ben Howland said it wasn’t a sprain, he

added “it could be serious.”

While losing Nelson for a significant period of time would be a

big blow, UCLA has plenty of size with 11 of its scholarship

players listed at 6-foot-8 or taller – most notably Smith.

The 6-10 Smith averaged 10.9 points and 6.3 boards in 33 games –

15 starts – last season. Plagued by foul trouble and weighing in at

over 300 pounds, he played over 30 minutes just twice. After

shedding 10 pounds over the summer, however, Smith seems to have a

renewed focus.

“One of my goals this year is to be more mature with

everything,” Smith said. “Last year I had some immature moments …

I got reprimanded by the Pac-10, I was getting in foul trouble,

blaming the refs. All that’s on me now.”

During the Bruins’ only exhibition game, Smith scored 26 points

in an 80-72 win over Cal State San Bernardino on Sunday.

In addition to Smith, UCLA is expecting big things from 6-10

twin forwards David and Travis Wear, who should contribute

immediately after sitting out last season after transferring from

North Carolina.

“There will definitely be times when we have three real big

players on the frontline,” Howland said. “We’ll give up some things

maybe defensively, I hope not too much, but we should be a very

good rebounding team at both ends of the floor.”

The Bruins will play 14 games at the Los Angeles Sports Arena –

their home court from 1959-65 – and four at the Honda Center in

Anaheim before returning to Pauley Pavilion in 2012-13.

“Not being in Pauley this year is definitely a logistical

nightmare. I know it’s harder to get to downtown than it is to get

to here from a lot of places,” Howland said. “It’s going to be a

mental toughness issue to be able to deal with the travel and

logistics.”

Senior guard Lazeric Jones returns after averaging a team-best

3.6 assists. His backup, Jerime Anderson, sat out Sunday’s

exhibition contest and will serve the second of a two-game

suspension for pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges involving

the theft of a laptop on campus in July.

The Lions (11-21, 2-12 West Coast) return four starters –

including preseason all-WCC selection Drew Viney, who led the team

with averages of 17.2 points and 6.6 rebounds. Viney, however, is

expected to miss all of November after undergoing surgery on his

left foot.

With Viney sidelined, Loyola Marymount will likely look to

redshirt junior Jarred DuBois and Ashley Hamilton to pick up the

pace. DuBois and Hamilton scored a combined 36 points during a

94-49 exhibition victory over LaVerne on Nov. 1.

UCLA has taken 12 straight meetings in this series and holds a

15-2 advantage against the Lions.