San Diego State
Saturday, 7 p.m.
In last year’s Wooden Classic, the UCLA men’s basketball team grinded out a close victory against Penn in its first game without then-junior Reeves Nelson, who had been dismissed from the team earlier in the week.
This season’s Bruins (5-2) head into Saturday’s Wooden Classic in a similar situation. UCLA enters the matchup against No. 21 San Diego State (6-1) with only eight of 10 scholarship players that it started the year with, after juniors Tyler Lamb and Joshua Smith left the team this week.
“It’s not fun. I would like to be able to just focus on basketball and not have all these other issues occur,” said junior forward Travis Wear. “Especially at beginning of the season when you are really trying to form an identity. It really affects you. But you have to push through it.”
Wear, along with his brother, forward David Wear, and sophomore guard Norman Powell, have now dealt with the departure of three players in their two years with the program. These three ““ the Wears and Powell ““ are also the only players on the current team that saw time on the court in last year’s Wooden Classic.
Whether the team will be able to pick up the pieces and live up to its high expectations is uncertain.
Wednesday’s blowout victory was a start, but the Aztecs will be a much more difficult challenge.
San Diego State has won 25 consecutive games against teams from California and 10 straight against Pac-12 schools. However, the Bruins and the Aztecs have not played each other since 1991.
Junior Chase Tapley, the Aztec’s second leading scorer, did not play in San Diego State’s victory over USC on Sunday. He is expected to return against UCLA.
With the departure of two seasoned veterans, strong performances from the Bruins’ four freshmen are a must if UCLA wants to win.
“Coming in as a freshman, it a big role to try to do well on the offensive and the defensive end,” said freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad. “It’s a hard role to come in and try to be a leader. These guys have really helped me, the older guys. I just got to think of it as an opportunity for me.”
Muhammad, along with two other freshmen, forward Kyle Anderson and guard Jordan Adams, combined for 36 points and 21 rebounds against Cal State Northridge. Freshman forward Tony Parker did not play because of a sprained ankle. His availability for Saturday’s game is uncertain.
“I really like the group that we have. I think we have a lot of talent. Obviously we are very young, when you look at the guys we are playing,” coach Ben Howland said.
“We are going to work extremely hard with the group that we have here. I am going to coach my tail off until we reach our potential. Obviously, the obstacle is staying healthy with the limited numbers of players.”