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UCLA's depth will only improve once players recover from injury

There’s one big early difference between this UCLA basketball team and recent versions of the Bruins besides 7-foot-2 center Moses Brown.

The Bruins are deep.

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UCLA used 10 players during its season opener, and only two starters had to play more than 28 minutes. Part of that was a function of a 25-point blowout of Purdue Fort Wayne, but the days of heavily leaning on eight players appear to have gone the way of the now-silenced “Frisbee Cheer.”

The team will get even deeper once power forward Cody Riley returns from a jaw injury in a few weeks and power forward Alex Olesinski fully recovers from a stress fracture in his foot that’s expected to sideline him until at least next month.

The Bruins would have been stocked with even more players had power forward Shareef O’Neal (heart surgery) and point guard Tyger Campbell (torn knee ligament) not been sidelined for the season.

“I still like our depth,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said Tuesday after the opener, “and [because of] that I think a lot of young guys can get some minutes and learn.”

The Bruins used guards Chris Smith, Jules Bernard and David Singleton extensively off the bench against the Mastodons, with center Kenneth Nwuba and walk-on guard Armani Dodson making cameo appearances. Smith was the most impressive of the reserves, notching 13 points, eight rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes while making all three of his three-pointers.

“Thought he did a lot of good things at both ends of the floor,” Alford said of Smith, who also had a block.

Singleton and Bernard showed potential as versatile wing players. Bernard was a defensive menace with a team-high three steals to go with his five points and three assists, and Singleton had four points, one rebound and one steal.

The return of Riley and Olesinski will provide the Bruins with needed frontcourt reinforcements.

“Cody Riley is a difference-maker for us, having a power forward like that,” Alford said. “So he complements what we do inside very, very well. Alex Olesinski is somebody that we hope to get back sometime over the [Christmas] break, and he’s a pick-and-pop stretch four [power forward] that can shoot threes. And he gives us a different element as well.”

Up Next

vs. Long Beach State

When: 8 p.m. Friday.

Where: Pauley Pavilion.

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

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Update: Alford said Brown’s free-throw struggles in the opener prompted Purdue Fort Wayne to hammer him on a foul, something that might continue if the center doesn’t improve his percentage. Brown missed three of four free throws, including one that hit nothing but the backboard. “He’ll get those down because he’s really been working hard on it,” Alford said, “and I’m going to give him that one game because I do think he’ll make more foul shots.” Alford said Brown had the potential to take about 10 free throws a game.

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