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News Roundup: UCLA Bruin Freshmen Fight Through Injuries

In the last five games, UCLA’s three star freshmen have been injured 4 times.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Kent State and UCLA Bruins
UCLA Bruins guard Lonzo Ball (2) lays on the court after falling hard in front of Kent State Golden Flashes guard Kevin Zabo (55) in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Golden 1 Center. 
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

So, in the last five games, UCLA’s three star freshmen have been injured 4 times and missed two games. That’s why this news roundup begins with an injury report on Lonzo Ball.

UCLA cruised to an easy 97-80 win over Kent State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, but all eyes were on Bruins freshman Lonzo Ball, who took a hard fall late in the first half.

Ball grimaced in pain as Kent State players rushed to his aid, and after fighting through pain to shoot free throws, he limped to the locker room at halftime.

The video in that article should scare every Bruin fan. The worst part may be that this is the second injury Lonzo is dealing with:

The thumb was what bothered Ball in last week’s Pac-12 Tournament. It was bandaged here, but it was fine. But even though he proclaimed himself healthy, he didn’t look it.

He walked uncomfortably to the bench, and then he still had the hitch in his get-along when he went to the Bruins locker room. Meanwhile, Kent State had sneaked its way back to within eight points of the Bruins at intermission.

“He’s a tough dude,” Holiday said. “ It was just a basketball play. As the game went on he was obviously a little sore, but he worked it out at the end.”

But your heart has to go out to Lonzo. Apparently, his injuries were nothing compared to concerns for his family. According to a report from Ben Bolch:

Ball was dealing with more than an assortment of injuries. A website report said that his mother, Tina, had suffered a stroke last month that required life-threatening skull surgery to relieve brain pressure. UCLA has now played seven games since the date given in the story.

I hope that story is not true. Thoughts and prayers to your Mom, Lonzo.

The official answer from Steve Alford and Lonzo was:

Ball played 17 minutes during the second half after suffering the minor injury and said afterward simply his hip is “fine.”

UCLA head coach Steve Alford said he doesn’t think it’s anything to worry about.

Next up on the medical report is Ike Anigbogu. Ike missed the game entirely and was seen on the bench in a boot.

The greater concern is forward Ike Anigbogu, who missed Friday’s game with a sprained foot. He suffered the injury in practice Tuesday and was still in his protective boot while sitting on the bench Friday. According to a UCLA spokesperson, the freshman is still day-to-day. Alford said he’s hopeful that the 6-foot-10 forward will be back.

I am betting Ike plays in tomorrow’s game against Cincinnati.

The last freshman looked great last night with no effects from his ankle sprain a couple weeks ago:

UCLA’s two star freshmen, Ball and TJ Leaf, showed no stage fright during their tournament debuts. Leaf had 16 by halftime, including two from a soaring one-handed dunk. He finished with a team-high 23 points and six rebounds.

“It’s definitely different, but it’s the game of basketball and we’ve been playing all our lives,” Leaf said of his first NCAA Tournament experience. “So we know how to do it. Each game could be our last, so we’ve got to leave it all out there.”

There are a lot of ways to read that last statement. But the most likely way to read it is to expect Leaf is to join Ball in the NBA Draft. But, as good as Leaf and Ball were last night, the real star of the game for UCLA was the “other” underclassman, sophomore Aaron Holiday:

With Ball slowed, sophomore Aaron Holiday was aggressive off the bench. He had 15 points and 11 assists.

“His decision-making today, I thought it was as good as it’s been in a long time,” Alford said.

I think Steve Alford is guilty of an understatement. That was the best game of Aaron’s career as a point. He really did step it up and had his career high in assists and a double-double. Aaron has scored more and has been taking over games briefly but he has never been as good as a point. Great job, Aaron!

Speaking of great jobs, this offense is just amazing when it is clicking. On last night’s offense, Bolch writes:

Aaron Holiday made a layup. TJ Leaf buried a jumper. Isaac Hamilton powered in for a dunk. Lonzo Ball drove for a layup. Holiday made another layup. Ball made a three-pointer. Holiday made another layup. Thomas Welsh converted a jumper. Leaf dunked. Bryce Alford made a three-pointer. Welsh sank two more jumpers.

Twelve shots. Twelve makes.

UCLA’s dandy dozen started roughly halfway through the second half Friday night at the Golden 1 Center and powered the third-seeded Bruins to a 97-90 victory over 14th-seeded Kent State in an NCAA tournament first-round game that had been up for grabs for more than 30 minutes.

Wow. That is hard to do in practice let alone in the NCAA tournament.

Let’s prolong the freshmen’s careers five more games.

Go Bruins!