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UCLA must deal with depth issues as the team moves forward without suspended players

UCLA must deal with depth issues as the team moves forward without suspended players
UCLA guard Aaron Holiday played 43 minutes against Central Arkansas on Wednesday. (Michael Owen Baker / Associated Press)

The indefinite suspension of three players has left UCLA's basketball team facing another open-ended concern: Is eight enough?

That's the number of players the Bruins have used in each of their first two games, shaky victories over Georgia Tech and Central Arkansas.

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Four Bruins logged at least 32 minutes Wednesday night during a 106-101 overtime triumph against Central Arkansas. Center Thomas Welsh tallied 38 minutes and point guard Aaron Holiday played 43.

"It's just one of those things that you have to work through," Welsh said afterward. "The guys that we have on the court are the guys we have on the court right now."

Four of the five eligible players on the Bruins' bench who have not played this season are walk-ons. The exception is senior Ikenna Okwarabizie, who had two points and seven rebounds last season in 31 minutes.

Among the reserves who have played this season, freshman guard Chris Smith might have made the strongest case for a larger role with six points and six rebounds in 13 energetic minutes.

UCLA's schedule is not conducive to rest. The No. 23 Bruins (2-0) are in the midst of a stretch of four games in seven days that continues Friday when they face South Carolina State (0-3) at Pauley Pavilion.

"We're asking a lot," UCLA coach Steve Alford acknowledged, "and we've got to do a good job in prep."

Welsh refused to blame fatigue for an uncharacteristically poor shooting night in which he missed 11 of 19 shots, including his only three-pointer. Welsh had made the only previous three-pointer he had taken in his career, leading to a humorous exchange with Alford seated next to him.

Said Alford: "You did miss a three."

Said Welsh: "I did."

Said Alford: "You went from 100% to 50 in one game."

The Bruins remain unsure when, or if, their depth issues will be solved. Freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill remain suspended indefinitely after acknowledging their role in the theft of merchandise from three stores inside an upscale mall in China. They returned to Los Angeles on Tuesday after President Trump intervened on their behalf with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

"To the three UCLA basketball players I say: You're welcome, go out and give a big Thank You to President Xi Jinping of China who made … your release possible and, HAVE A GREAT LIFE!" Trump tweeted Thursday. "Be careful, there are many pitfalls on the long and winding road of life!"

VS. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE

When: Friday, 6 p.m.

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Where: Pauley Pavilion.

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570.

Update: Forward Damani Applewhite averages a team-leading 8.7 points per game for the Bulldogs (0-3), who have lost games by 35 points to Wisconsin, 39 points to Boston College and 32 points to Yale.

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch

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