UCLA plays on in the NCAA tournament, but for Baron Davis, the Bruins' freshman point guard, the season is over.
In a crippling loss only days before UCLA's third-round South Regional match-up against Kentucky at St. Petersburg, Fla., a magnetic-resonance imaging test on Monday revealed that Davis had torn the anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee, an injury that will sideline him for the rest of the tournament.
Nine minutes into UCLA's victory over Michigan on Sunday, Davis said he came down awkwardly after a driving dunk, felt his knee give and something "pop" and limped back on defense.
He came out of the game a few seconds later, with 10:58 o play in the half.
Team doctor Gerald Finerman allowed him to return late in the second half, but Davis clearly was favoring the knee and played only five minutes in the period and did not score.
"I hope it's not serious," Davis said in the locker room Sunday, saying that he felt like he was walking on one leg after the injury.
Preliminary plans are for Davis, UCLA's fourth-leading scorer at 11.7 points per game, to try to strengthen the knee for three weeks, then undergo surgery to repair the ligament.
"Our basketball family is stunned and saddened by the news about Baron," Bruin Coach Steve Lavin said Monday night in a statement. "We will be with Baron through his surgery and rehabilitation.
"He has shown us this season what it is like to be a competitor on the floor, and I know he will use those same competitive instincts to get through this tough time."
In addition to his scoring, Davis was UCLA's leader in assists (five a game), steals (2.4) and enthusiasm.
Finerman said he wouldn't have signed off on Davis' return to the game if he thought there was a serious injury.
Davis, named the nation's freshman of the year by one national publication, is UCLA's second permanent loss this season. Center Jelani McCoy resigned from the team last month.
Though the Bruins went on to beat favored, third-seeded Michigan without Davis--and did not get a dominant performance out of him in the first-round victory over Miami--his ball-handling and open-court defensive skills would have made him a crucial figure for No. 6 UCLA in its game Friday against high-speed, second-seeded Kentucky.
But UCLA's three seniors--Toby Bailey, J.R. Henderson and Kris Johnson--have a history of winning a big game without an injured point guard.
In 1995, Tyus Edney suffered a wrist injury during the Bruins' national semifinal victory over Oklahoma State and could manage only two lifeless minutes in the title game against Arkansas. Cameron Dollar substituted for him against the pressure defense of the Razorbacks and played the final 38 minutes. UCLA won a national title.
Against the Wolverines, fellow freshman starter Earl Watson became the stalwart guard in Davis' absence, bouncing back from a down game in the first round.
On Sunday, Watson scored 10 points, with four rebounds and two steals--and only one turnover--in 34 minutes.
Also, backup forward Travis Reed, Davis' probable replacement in the starting lineup, played 22 effective minutes against the huge Michigan front line.
In Reed's best performance since early in the season, he scored 11 points on four-of-five shooting, grabbed three rebounds and made three of his five free throws.
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THE BIG HURT
Baron Davis' season came to an end when he landed awkwardly after this funk against Michigan on Sunday in the South Regional at Atlanta.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (Front view / Bent left knee)
Davis tore the anterior cruciate ligament, a major stabilizing ligament in the knee.
WAITING PERIOD: Three weeks to allow Davis' knee to "calm down."
SURGERY: ACL reconstruction can be performed either as an open surgical procedure or athroscopically assisted. There has been no indication of the treatment for Davis.
RECOVERY: Davis will walk with crutches for at least four weeks, wear a brace and begin rehabilitation about a month after the operation. Davis is expected to be sidelined until January.
Source: Stone Clinic, The CIBA Collection of Medical Illustrations
UCLA (24-8) vs. Kentucky (31-4); SOUTH REGIONAL; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Time: 7 p.m.* (* approximately); TV: Channel 2