Injuries haven't stopped Bruins from winning games

You have to figure Tony Spino never used as much tape, never packed as much ice, never stretched as many muscles, never poked and prodded as many knees and ankles and shoulders, never played the part of an aspirin distributor with such improbable frequency.

The man was a trainer for the U.S. Olympic boxing team in 1984, a side that won nine of 11 gold medals. He has seen physical pain at its most heightened stage. Then came this college basketball season.

Spino, the team's athletic trainer, is in his 33rd season at UCLA and the Bruins are seemingly killing more and more trees each day to properly list their medical report. It's more detailed than a BlackBerry screen.

Which makes UCLA's success all the more impressive.

Ben Howland is in his third season as coach and his Bruins are rolling along despite the mounting bumps and bruises that continue to torment his roster. UCLA is 19-4 overall, 9-2 atop the Pac-10, ranked No. 12 and positioning itself for an NCAA Tournament seed in the No. 2 range. This is a team in which every scholarship player has been treated for some sort of injury, some extremely serious and others of the nagging variety.

"It's mind-boggling," Howland said. "It's unbelievable. And yet, we keep bouncing back. Sometimes, the adversity makes you tougher. I just think we have a special group of young men who are great kids. There is good leadership within our team."

The Bruins lead Stanford and Cal by a game and face a critical stretch this week when they visit Washington State Thursday and Washington Saturday. Senior guard Cedric Bozeman will continue to play with torn cartilage in his left shoulder. Sophomore point guard Jordan Farmar is walking around campus in a boot to protect a sprained left ankle (the same ankle he has now sprained five times) and will be a game-time decision at WSU.

You think that's serious?

This is how UCLA releases some of its weekly injury notes: Lorenzo Mata (missed two games with concussion/broken right leg on Jan. 12, out 6-8 weeks, has missed additional six games); Josh Shipp (missed first 11 games/started first four Pac-10 games/out rest of year/hip surgery); Michael Fey (missed three weeks of practice with groin strain/missed one game with sprained left shoulder/missed 12 games with right ankle sprain).

It goes on. And on. And on. More groins. More ankles. More missed time. More long days of taping and icing and stretching and poking and prodding for Spino.

"It has been tough for everyone in our program," Farmar said. "But it's mostly about showing character and mental toughness that you can suck it up when the pain comes. We think our program should be on the national stage. We want to be mentioned in the same sentences as Duke and Connecticut. When someone gets injured, all that means is people have to step up and contribute."

So they have. Sophomore guard Arron Afflalo has been the consistent threat at both ends, averaging a team-high 17.4 points and routinely locking up the opponent's best perimeter player. In the games Bozeman has played, UCLA is 14-1. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a freshman forward with a funky name and increasingly serious game, averaging 8.7 points and a team-best 8.8 rebounds in the absence of Mata and Fey. Ryan Hollins, a senior center who missed six games with a strained groin, has started the last three.

And yet it is one name conference coaches mention most when asked about UCLA's first-place standing.

"Jordan Farmar," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. "He is a guy who not only has the ability to make plays for others, but to also make the play that wins a game. They have done a very good job of controlling tempo to where they are in games in the last three to four minutes. Then they put the ball in [Farmar's] hands to win it. That's a critical aspect to have on any team, particularly in a conference like this."

It should cause concern this week for both Washington schools.

That is, if Farmar doesn't sprain his ankle a sixth time stepping off the airplane.

Ed Graney of The San Diego Union-Tribune is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ed.graney@uniontrib.com.