This UCLA season didn't wait long to go into hyperdrive. Between the stunning loss to Loyola Marymount last Friday and Monday's suspension of junior forward Reeves Nelson, there's no question the Bruins will need to put all of it aside against Middle Tennessee State in tonight's 8 p.m. EA Sports Maui Invitational opening round game at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Nelson's suspension means the Bruins will go without their top returning scorer and rebounder against the Blue Raiders, who won at LMU on Sunday. UCLA head coach Ben Howland said UCLA played poorly in the loss and called the suspension of Nelson, "a very disappointing situation for Reeves and our basketball program."
If not for Nelson's suspension, there might have been more hubbub about Joshua Smith admitting and apologizing for an immature tweet after losing to LMU. He deleted the tweet, which read "Just lost to some straight bums lol" according to the Los Angeles Times.
Now UCLA must put it all behind and focus all its attention to a Blue Raiders team that Howland told reporters looks quite advanced with an experienced lineup that starts four juniors and senior center LaRon Dendy, who transferred from Iowa State.
"We'll have to have a great effort," Howland said in his Monday press conference. "They're very experienced, well-coached and extremely athletic. They're impressive watching them on film."
THE LOWDOWNIt will probably be a long road to return to the national rankings after dropping out this week but UCLA can get it started right away with a win tonight.
Three things we want answered:
Can Joshua Smith dominate against another big body?
* Dendy is 6-foot-10, 235-pounds and is averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds in the Blue Raiders first two games. Smith struggled in the opener against LMU.
How much will Jerime Anderson's return help UCLA with its perimeter defense?
* LMU made 10-of-15 3-pointers against UCLA, so it's vital the Bruins do a better job preventing Middle Tennessee State from getting open looks from behind the arc.
Who will emerge as a rebounding force during Reeves Nelson's absence?
* If Nelson is out for an extended period of time, UCLA will need several players to improve their rebounding after finishing with just one rebound more than a significantly shorter LMU team.
On the Blue Raiders: Middle Tennessee State is 2-0 with wins over Austin Peay and LMU, which it toppled 58-51, on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. Dendy is joined by Marcos Knight in averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds in their first two games this season. JT Sutton, a 6-8, 230-pound forward is another strong rebounding presence. The Blue Raiders play in the Sun Belt Conference.