UCLA’s shorthanded squad begins a stretch of three games in five days on Friday with a matchup against visiting South Carolina State, which has lost its first three games by an average of 27 points. The 18th-ranked Bruins are essentially down to eight players after freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were suspended indefinitely for shoplifting during the team’s trip to China last week.
After opening with a 63-60 win over Georgia Tech in the Pac-12 China Game on Nov. 10, the jet-lagged Bruins needed overtime before posting a 106-101 victory over visiting Central Arkansas on Wednesday. Junior guard Aaron Holiday scored a career-high 24 points while freshman guard Kris Wilkes added 20 points and 12 rebounds in a fast-paced game played just hours after coach Steve Alford announced the suspensions of the three freshmen. “At the end of the day, we’re all brothers and we’re going to have each other’s backs no matter what happens,” Holiday told reporters. “It brought us together, we lost three players and we have to grow as a team.” The Bruins’ lack of depth may not be a factor against South Carolina State, which opened its difficult non-conference schedule with lopsided road losses to Wisconsin, Boston College and Yale.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
ABOUT SOUTH CAROLINA STATE (0-3): Sophomore forward Damani Applewhite averages 8.7 points on 55.6 percent shooting to lead the Bulldogs, who were picked to finish seventh in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preseason poll. Coach Murray Garvin’s squad has struggled offensively to open the season, shooting 33.3 percent from the field and 24.2 percent from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Justin Jones, who has come off the bench in each of the first three games, strengthened his case for more playing time with eight points and five boards in Tuesday’s 86-54 loss to Yale.
ABOUT UCLA (2-0): The long China trip appeared to catch up to several players on Wednesday, including senior center Thomas Welsh, who missed 11 of his 19 shots but still finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in 38 minutes. While the Bruins’ three suspended freshmen are drawing most of the media attention, Alford has another talented trio of freshmen in Wilkes, Jaylen Hands and Chris Smith. Hands has started both games and averages 12 points and 5.5 rebounds, while Smith’s role figures to expand with fellow big men Riley and Hill sidelined.
1. UCLA has gone 75-13 over the last five seasons in Pauley Pavilion.
2. South Carolina State is playing without starting forward Tashombe Riley, who will miss the entire season due to injury.
3. Central Arkansas became the first team to score more than 100 points on the Bruins since 2004 in Wednesday’s contest.
PREDICTION: UCLA 82, South Carolina State 61