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2 starters’ status not certain for UCLA in Sweet 16 on Thursday

LOS ANGELES – UCLA’s Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was set to undergo an MRI on his sprained left ankle and Josh Shipp was recovering from strep throat Monday, putting two of the Bruins’ starters at less than full strength.

Top-seeded UCLA (33-3) plays Western Kentucky (29-6) on Thursday night in the NCAA tournament regional semifinals in Phoenix.

Coach Ben Howland said the MRI on Mbah a Moute was being done as a precaution.

“His ankle was swollen pretty severely,” he said. “I was surprised and a little bit down by it. We don’t anticipate there being any issue.”

Mbah a Moute returned Saturday night against Texas A&M after missing two games. He had two points, eight rebounds, six turnovers and four fouls in 32 minutes of the Bruins’ 51-49 second-round victory.

“It hurt his timing that he hadn’t practiced,” Howland said. “His rebounding, defense and double-teams created a lot of havoc that helped us.

“I don’t think we can advance much further without him.”

Howland said the junior forward would play Thursday “barring any unforeseen abnormality on the MRI.”

Shipp was given antibiotics for strep throat after Saturday’s game, when he was scoreless in 37 minutes but came up with a key block on A&M’s final shot to preserve the victory.

The Bruins didn’t practice Monday, but Shipp spent more than an hour working on his shooting, Howland said.

The junior forward who averages 12.8 points has been in a prolonged slump, including an 0-for-20 stretch from 3-point range earlier this month.

Howland said Shipp took about 325 shots, most under game-type conditions, and made 91 of 100 free-throw attempts.

“He shot it very well,” Howland said. “We’ll do some extra shooting (Tuesday). I probably have waited too long to do that.”

Mbah a Moute, Shipp and guard Russell Westbrook were a combined 3 for 18 against A&M.

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