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UCLA Needs Ball to Bounce Back in Time for Arizona

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The Bruins took care of business against Arizona State last night, but UCLA's victory was overshadowed by concerns about Lonzo Ball's ankle injury.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

As Ben Bolch notes the 87-75 win over ASU was suspenseful but not for win or loss. In a story entitled: "UCLA survives a scare, not a potential loss to ASU but a possible injury to Lonzo Ball":

A fan base and a prominent alumnus feared the worst as Ball grabbed his right ankle before limping toward the locker room.

"God help Lonzo Ball," Bill Walton said in typically colorful fashion on the ESPN2 broadcast, "and God help America.". . .

Ball didn’t remain in the locker room long after tweaking his ankle and getting it re-taped, checking back into the game with 68 seconds left in the first half. He threw an alley-oop pass that sailed out of bounds on the Bruins’ next possession and was still walking a bit gingerly before the second half but announced he was OK when he leaped to dunk a lob from Holiday soon thereafter.

The Associated Press focused on the actual game. It kind of felt like an exhibition or early season game against an overmatched opponent. To his credit Steve Alford planned to take advantage of it:

Fifth-ranked UCLA’s game plan was to pound the ball inside against Arizona State’s smaller lineup, and it worked to perfection.

. . .

The Bruins’ size made a difference throughout, with UCLA capitalizing on plenty of second-chance opportunities and taking advantage of ASU’s four-guard lineup on both ends.

"We really wanted to get the ball inside, because we knew, especially if they weren’t going to go to their bench and they weren’t going to play big," Bruins coach Steve Alford said, "we thought we could score at the rim."

Ike Anigbogu was especially good and destroyed the midgets of ASU. He had a career high twelve points.

Arizona State led 14-10 6 minutes into the game, thanks in part to UCLA’s early turnovers. But the Bruins hit five straight shots, three for freshman big man Ike Anigbogu inside.

"Ike, that’s the best I’ve seen him play on offense. Which he does in practice but that’s the best in a game he’s played," Holiday said.

An interesting aside is on TJ Leaf. Leaf was nearly unstoppable last night going. 11-16.

Freshman forward TJ Leaf has been a barometer for success, of sorts, for the Bruins, as his win/loss split suggests. Against the smaller Sun Devil frontcourt, he made his minutes count, scoring a team high 25 points and grabbing nine rebounds.

This is pretty true.

TJ Leaf in UCLA wins: 17.5 pts, 9.2 rebs, 2.5 asts

TJ Leaf in UCLA losses: 11 pts, 5.3 rebs, 1.3 asts (small sample)

TJ played well but the story of the night was Lonzo's ankle:

Ankles often feel worse the day after they’re injured, but Steve Alford said he expected Ball to be fine for the Bruins’ showdown against No. 4 Arizona on Saturday. "It’s Lonzo Ball," Alford said. "He’ll be there full force on Saturday, I’m almost positive."

Go Bruins!