UCLA downs New Mexico State in Theus' first game

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Coach Ben Howland looked at his lineup in the

first half and saw three freshmen wearing UCLA uniforms on the


"God, we are young," he said. "I don't remember ever playing

a game this early that counted. This is early in the season and

we're young."

But it was a few older hands who guided the Bruins to an 83-70

victory over New Mexico State in a first-round Preseason NIT game

Tuesday night.

Sophomore Arron Afflalo scored a career-high 23 points, sophomore Jordan Farmar had 14 of his 18 points in the second half, and senior Cedric Bozeman added 13 points after missing all of last season because of knee surgery.

"We have expectations this year," Afflalo said. "We're still

young, but we're a good team. This team could be very special."

The Bruins never trailed and maintained a double-digit lead most

of the second half, with 10 players getting minutes, including

three of the team's highly touted freshmen.

"We weren't quite on the same page, but we had enough

individual efforts and big-time plays to get it done," Farmar

said. "But in order for us to be a good team and compete in that

kind of environment and go deep into the tournament, we all have to

be on the same page."

UCLA will host Temple in a second-round game Thursday night. The

Owls advanced with a 69-37 victory over Army.

John Wooden, still a magnet for autograph seekers at 95, watched

the Bruins win their season opener for the third straight year

under Howland.

Elijah Ingram led New Mexico State with a career-high 24 points

after not playing for more than 1½ years because he transferred

from St. John's. Shaun Davis added 15 points.

"I was seeing visions of Elijah Ingram in [Madison Square]

Garden," Howland said. "He was making those two 3s in a row when

we were up 17, made a bad turnover, he scores and we come down and

shoot it quick, up 14 and he makes another one. But we'll learn

from that."

Ingram scored 21 points when St. John's beat UCLA 71-55 in

January 2004 at the Garden in New York.

"We're not that far away from being a good team," he said.

"It felt like we beat ourselves with a lot of turnovers [19]. I

was a little nervous and anxious. I had to calm myself down and

find my rhythm."

The Aggies lost their opener under new coach Reggie Theus, who

grew up down the freeway in Inglewood and starred at UNLV and in

the NBA. He took over a team that went 6-24 last season and has

just two returning starters.

"I have had so many emails, text messages and phone messages

from the gang back home. They're all wishing me well," Theus said.

"We helped ourselves a lot. We played in front of a large crowd, a

lot of pepole out here have never seen us play."

The Aggies outscored UCLA 12-5 to end the half trailing by


Afflalo did most of his damage in the first half with 16 points,

including hitting all five of his free throws.

"I'm going to definitely get some career marks scoring-wise and

that's all because Dijon [Thompson] is gone and coach is looking

for me to score," he said. "When I step on that floor, I still

take pride most in my defense, so that's what you're going to get

out of me first."

The Bruins started the second half with an 18-10 run that

increased their lead to 59-44. Afflalo ignited the spark with a

3-pointer before 7-footer Michael Fey ended it with a jumper.

Fey had practiced just twice before the opener, having been

bothered by a severe groin strain for five weeks.

"It felt good to be out there and help the team," he said.

Down the stretch, the Aggies couldn't muster any momentum

against UCLA's defense. The Bruins ran off eight in a row for a

79-61 lead with 2:22 remaining.

UCLA freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute of Cameroon got his first

start and had six points and a team-leading eight rebounds before

fouling out in the final minute. Freshmen Darren Collison had four

points and two assists, and Michael Roll added five points, two

rebounds and two assists.

"They were a little jittery," Farmar said. "That's one thing

I told them, there's going to be ups and downs. There was for me."

The Bruins are playing in the Preseason NIT for the first time

since 1996, when they were upset by Tulsa in overtime of the

opening round in Steve Lavin's first game after taking over from

the fired Jim Harrick.

UCLA was without sophomore starter Josh Shipp, who is recovering

from hip surgery and freshman Alfred Aboya, who had left knee


"This team is going to look that much better when Josh and

Alfred come back," Afflalo said. "I can't wait for that."