Dragovic charged with felony assault

Sophomore guard Malcolm Lee passes during Friday's 75-64 victory against Cal State Bakersfield. Lee had 10 points and five assists in the game.

Sophomore guard Malcolm Lee passes during Friday's 75-64 victory against Cal State Bakersfield. Lee had 10 points and five assists in the game. Derek Liu

An already raw and depleted UCLA men’s basketball team became even more so over the weekend, as its only returning starter from a year ago fell into trouble with the law.

Senior forward Nikola Dragovic was arrested on Friday for an incident that occurred at a Hollywood nightclub in October. He was suspended from UCLA’s game against Cal State Bakersfield that night and remains so for tonight’s home meeting with Pepperdine.

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office filed a felony assault charge against Dragovic on Friday morning. No more specifics on the incident were released by coach Ben Howland or the UCLA Athletic Department.

“This is a legal case that is obviously pending,” Howland said. “I’m certainly not a lawyer and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to get into the information.”

Dragovic averaged 24.1 minutes per game last season, which leads the Bruins’ returning players. He totaled 9.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in that season and established himself as a three-point threat, but has struggled so far this season.

In UCLA’s first three games ““ including its two exhibitions ““ Dragovic was just 4 for 20 beyond the arc.

Howland personally escorted Dragovic to the university police department to turn himself in after the Hollywood Division of the Los Angeles Police Department had made its charge.

“We wanted to respond as quick as possible which happened around 11 a.m. (Friday) morning,” Howland said.

Dragovic was not present at Pauley Pavilion for UCLA’s victory over Bakersfield, but Howland said he would allow him to be present on the bench tonight in street clothes. He did not practice with the team in their only practice of the weekend on Sunday, but was permitted to attend.

Howland left open the possibility of further disciplinary action, but said the coaching staff was waiting for more information before making that decision. Howland did note that he would take into account Dragovic’s prior history of involvement with the police since being at UCLA.

The senior from Serbia was suspended for another early regular season game last year after being arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor battery in an altercation with his ex-girlfriend, though he was not charged.

Howland added that the athletic department runs a program every year to help educate players about how to handle themselves in situations where the police might be involved.

“We have different workshops where we always have the university police come speak to the student-athletes,” he said. “We do a number of things to try to be proactive in that area.”

Preparations for Pepperdine

UCLA will retake the court tonight against WCC neighbor Pepperdine (1-2) at Pauley Pavilion.

The loss of Dragovic for an unspecified amount of time will not be easy for the team to handle, especially with freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt injured at the same position.

“We’re shorthanded right now,” Howland said. “It would have been nice to have more time with the whole team together, but you can’t plan for that. You just have to deal with the situation.”

Senior forward James Keefe will again start in place of Dragovic as he did in the game against Bakersfield. The veteran big man did not falter in his first start of the season, going five-for-six from the field for 10 points.

Howland noted the necessity to come out strong in tonight’s matchup, a feat that the Bruins have failed to accomplish in nearly every game so far.

“It would be nice to get off to a good start,” he said.

The Waves are led by Los Angeles-native and sophomore guard Keion Bell who averaged 21 points in the team’s first three games so far this season.

Bruins beat Bakersfield

The early goings of UCLA’s game on Friday night had all the markings of a sequel to the team’s disastrous opening night loss earlier in the week. But the Bruins finally decided to be the Bruins.

In the end, UCLA (1-1) left with a 75-64 win over Cal State Bakersfield (1-2), its first of the season. Led by a career-high 19 points from sophomore forward Drew Gordon, all five of the Bruin starters finished in double figures.

UCLA seemed to have found its stroke in the second half, working out of a much-improved offensive attack.

“Once we did a good job of settling down, we got good open looks,” Howland said.

The same could not be said for the team in the first part of the game, where they were trailing by 11 with just under six minutes to go in the first half.

Similar to their loss against Fullerton last Monday, the Bruins once again looked befuddled by a zone defense early on ““ this one of the 2-1-2 variety ““ which helped them to commit 21 turnovers on the night.

“Again, you see signs of a very young team with a lot of inexperience,” Howland said.

Eventually UCLA found a way to work the ball inside to overpower a Bakersfield squad whose tallest starting player was just 6-foot-6.

“We just wanted to make sure we didn’t have a repeat of last time,” said the 6-foot-9 Drew Gordon, who also dominated defensively with three blocks. “We wanted to make sure how hard we practiced the whole week paid off.”

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