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UCLA fears Mac Etienne could be second Bruins player lost to season-ending injury

UCLA forward Mac Etienne passes the ball past Washington State center Efe Abogidi.
UCLA forward Mac Etienne passes the ball in front of Washington State center Efe Abogidi in February.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

In his first 17 seasons as a head coach, Mick Cronin lost only one player to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Cincinnati’s Cashmere Wright going down because of one of the most devastating injuries in college basketball.

Now Cronin is facing the prospect of losing a third player to that issue in a little more than 10 months.

Redshirt freshman forward Mac Etienne is suspected to have torn a ligament in his right knee, Cronin said Monday, with the team awaiting medical confirmation before making an official announcement.

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“They’re 90-something percent on what they think it is,” Cronin said of doctors assessing the injury.

No. 2 UCLA opens the 2021-22 season on Tuesday against Cal State Bakersfield and could continue the March magic from last season’s NCAA tournament run.

If the suspected injury is confirmed, Etienne would be the second Bruin lost for the season to a knee injury after freshman guard Will McClendon suffered a torn knee ligament in September workouts. UCLA also lost senior guard Chris Smith to a torn knee ligament on Dec. 31 of last year, ending his final college season.

The 6-foot-10 Etienne would have likely been the second big man off the bench this season, playing behind probable starter Cody Riley and top backup Myles Johnson. His injury will likely lead to a larger role for Kenneth Nwuba when the second-ranked Bruins open the season Tuesday night at Pauley Pavilion against Cal State Bakersfield.

Etienne was a midseason addition last year after departing his New England prep school when its basketball season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He made one start with the Bruins while largely filling a reserve role, averaging 2.6 points and 2.8 rebounds in 11.4 minutes.

“That was a crazy experience,” Etienne, when he last spoke with reporters, said of joining the team in December. “I got here and I didn’t expect to play. And then I got here and we started winning, and then just kept winning and winning. And then we got to the Final Four.

“By the end of the tournament, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m so happy I left high school to come and do this, to experience this with all my teammates.’ ”

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson benefited from a bye week, using the time to recover from a thumb injury that forced him to miss the Utah game.

Elbow room

If you notice a faint bruise under junior shooting guard Jake Kyman’s left eye, it came courtesy of a wayward elbow from Johnson in practice.

“I told Jake that these things, they have a mind of their own sometimes,” Johnson said of his elbows. “I’m not trying to hurt anybody, but it just happened. It was unfortunate that it was such a big bruise, I know his girlfriend was really mad at me.”

Said Kyman: “My whole eye was like purple up here, but it’s gotten better over time.”

Pep from Hep

Hep Cronin, Mick’s father and the Bruins’ good-luck charm during their Final Four run, made it into the team’s pregame hype video shown inside Pauley Pavilion.

The video shows Hep pumping his arm, a trademark gesture from last season’s NCAA tournament that has helped make him something of a celebrity among college basketball fans.

“It’s really getting out of control,” Mick Cronin cracked. “He will only fly first class now. It’s almost like he’s an A-list actor now, he’s got to have his snacks in the room when he comes to the house, it’s starting to get a little ridiculous.

How to watch UCLA’s season opener

VS. CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD

When: 8.

Where: Pauley Pavilion.

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Network; Radio: 1150.

Update: Like the Bruins, the Roadrunners scored 100 points during a recent exhibition victory, when they routed San Diego Christian. The similarities probably end there. UCLA is widely expected to contend for a second consecutive Final Four appearance and Bakersfield was picked by Big West Conference coaches to finish sixth in the conference. Cronin touted the Roadrunners’ offensive rebounding prowess after they finished last season ranked ninth nationally in that category with 13.4 per game, but they lost center Ronne Readus to graduation. UCLA guard Jaylen Clark, who missed the exhibition game while recovering from concussion-like symptoms, watched the early portion of practice from the sideline Monday and remains day to day.


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