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UCLA makes quick work of Washington despite loss of TJ Leaf to ankle injury

UCLA makes quick work of Washington despite loss of TJ Leaf to ankle injury
UCLA Coach Steve Alford addresses the media following the Bruins' 98-66 victory over Washington at Pauley Pavilion on March 1.

TJ Leaf signaled that he was probably down to stay when he slapped the court in anguish with his right hand only moments after falling along the baseline. His other hand grabbed his left ankle, the source of his discomfort.

UCLA Coach Steve Alford walked over and tenderly placed his hand on his star power forward's chest before patting him. Leaf could only grimace.

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The third-ranked Bruins were in need of consolation after their leading scorer sprained his ankle less than five minutes into an otherwise largely meaningless 98-66 victory over Washington on Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion.

Leaf had to be helped off the court by two assistant coaches as the freshman hobbled toward the locker room. He did not return and was scheduled to be reevaluated before UCLA's final home game, Saturday against Washington State.

"He'll be on crutches, boot, trying to get that thing rest and a lot of treatment," Alford said, noting that doctors had ruled out broken bones. "It was just a sprained ankle so it's not a bad one, but we'll have to see what the next 48 hours look like."

Leaf appeared to roll the ankle after leaping to block Washington forward Noah Dickerson's shot with 15:22 left in the first half, crawling out of bounds underneath the basket as the Bruins commenced a fastbreak toward the other end of the court.

The Bruins could give Leaf as much as two weeks of rest if needed before opening the NCAA tournament, though an absence of any length would be crushing. Leaf entered the game averaging a team-high 16.8 points and was tied with Thomas Welsh for the team lead at 8.7 rebounds per game.

Should Leaf miss additional time, reserve forward Gyorgy Goloman probably would be tapped to fill the void. Goloman is strong defensively but somewhat limited on offense, averaging 3.5 points in 10.9 minutes a game before Wednesday. He had eight points and six rebounds in 26 minutes against the Huskies.

The Bruins also could use the four-guard lineup they had abandoned in recent weeks, though they could go to it for only short stretches because they have no other backups at the position who play regularly.

"With TJ out and TJ down, we're going to have to play some four guards like we did in November and December," Alford said.

UCLA (27-3 overall, 14-3 Pac-12) stretching its winning streak to eight games against an equally undermanned opponent seemed almost like an afterthought following Leaf's departure.

The Huskies (9-20, 2-15) played without freshman phenom Markelle Fultz, who was sidelined by continuing discomfort in his right knee that has forced him to miss four of his team's last six games. He may not return until he's in the NBA, where he's widely projected to be the top pick in the draft.

UCLA counterpart Lonzo Ball, who's also vying for that honor, staged another showcase for his candidacy with 19 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in front of a crowd that included Lakers Coach Luke Walton and recent lottery picks Brandon Ingram and D'Angelo Russell. Walton gazed at the scoreboard midway through the second half as if he wanted to see a replay of a sequence in which Ball threw a three-quarters-court outlet pass that led to an Isaac Hamilton floater, stole the inbounds pass in the backcourt and made a three-pointer.

The game's opening 69 seconds were a predictor of things to come. Hamilton made a jumper, Welsh blocked a shot, Bryce Alford buried a three-pointer, Washington committed a traveling violation and Alford made another three-pointer. The Bruins were up, 11-0, Huskies Coach Lorenzo Romar called timeout and there wasn't much left to ponder until Leaf went down.

"It's a tough one, but he'll bounce back," Ball said. "He'll be fine."

Alford finished with 29 points while making eight of 14 three-pointers, one short of the school record he shares with Hamilton and Jason Kapono. Alford also increased his single-season school record to 102 three-pointers.

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Dickerson scored 23 points for Washington, which extended its school-record losing streak to 11 games.

Meanwhile, the Bruins moved to within one game of Arizona and Oregon atop the Pac-12 standings with one game left to play in the regular season.

UCLA's bid to win a share of the conference title suddenly seemed unimportant compared to its hopes to get back one of its best players.

"I told him five minutes, two [points], one [rebound] and one [assist], that's not a bad line," Steve Alford said. "We're having fun with him and that's who he is, but we obviously have to get him back as soon as we can."

Twitter: @latbbolch

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