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Howland says Roll’s absence is being felt too

Times Staff Writer

All the injury attention at UCLA has been focused on Darren Collison’s sprained left knee. The junior point guard was a preseason nominee for first-team All-American.

But several Bruins, including Coach Ben Howland, say the team is missing Michael Roll as much as it misses Collison.

Roll, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound junior swingman, ruptured a ligament in his left foot last month in practice the day after UCLA’s first exhibition game. By all accounts Roll had matured over the summer into the kind of unassuming, all-around player who makes everyone better.

And he, like Collison and forward James Keefe (shoulder surgery), will be on the bench when the second-ranked Bruins (3-0) play Maryland (3-0) Monday in the semifinals of the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. The other semifinal features Missouri against 12th-ranked Michigan State.

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“I love playing with Michael,” junior Josh Shipp said. “He does a lot more than just shoot. It’s just the little things. Me and him, we see eye to eye on fastbreaks. I’ll draw the defender and kick it out for the three. When you have a guy who knows how to play the game, we’re all better.”

Roll came to UCLA after making an oral commitment to UC Santa Barbara. His obvious skill was as a jump shooter. He has averaged 37% from three-point range over his first two seasons, and according to freshman center Kevin Love, “If you see Michael in practice he’s one of our best players. He gets down on defense, shoots the ball well. And he does little things that might not always end up on the stat sheet.”

Three times Thursday in his weekly news conference, Howland turned the conversation to Roll.

“He makes your life so much easier,” Howland said. “He’s smart, he knows what he’s doing and arguably he’s our best shooter. Mike was shooting the ball so well before he got hurt.”

Howland expects Roll to return against either George Washington on Nov. 28 or Texas on Dec. 2.

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Howland said Maryland will press Monday and he’s confident Collison’s replacement, Russell Westbrook, is capable of handling the pressure. “He’s more under control now,” Howland said. “The last two games he had 15 assists and four turnovers. That’s a 3-1 ratio where ideally I like to be at.”

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Forward Alfred Aboya has averaged 21 minutes in the first three games and the junior has seven fouls. It’s not that Howland wants the fouls, but he is not going to try to corral Aboya’s energetic play.

“Alfred really creates a lot of havoc that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet,” Howland said. “In many ways he’s really the heart and soul of our defense. It is 100% effort at all times.”

Said Aboya: “I’m always going to play hard and not worry about fouls. [The] fouls coaches don’t want me to get are on the offensive end. Coach says he would live with me fouling if I’m trying to hedge or block on defense but not going for a steal.”

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diane.pucin@latimes.com


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