LOS ANGELES - Somehow, UCLA has managed to survive, and even thrive, through an incredible string of injuries this season.
From stars to freshmen, seven players have been sidelined at various times, including sophomore Josh Shipp for the rest of the season.
That's enough to wreck a lot of teams.
Instead, UCLA's transformation from downtrodden to dominant promised by coach Ben Howland when he arrived in Westwood three seasons ago is underway.
The revival began last year when the Bruins returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years, losing to Texas Tech in the first round.
"Just getting back was a big step for our program," senior Ryan Hollins said. "This year, we definitely want to build on that. I'm looking forward to going as far as we can."
That might include a high seed in the NCAA tournament, if the 14th-ranked Bruins (17-4) keep winning.
Their losses - all by eight points or fewer - have been to No. 3 Memphis, No. 11 West Virginia, No. 16 Washington and California.
Using a youthful lineup that at times has featured five freshmen and four sophomores, UCLA has climbed to the top of the Pac-10 standings.
The Bruins took a one-game lead over California, Arizona and Stanford into this week's home games against the Arizona schools.
"We can't even think about being in first place, because you saw Washington lost two games last weekend. One game and we're tied," Hollins said. "You got to bring it every night, you can't concede any game or just assume that we're going to win it."
Every Pac-10 team has been hit with injuries this season, with seven schools losing at least one player for the season.
The Bruins' biggest loss was Shipp, who scored in double figures in their first four Pac-10 games before persistent hip pain forced him out.
Farmar had three key steals in the closing minutes of a 56-49 win at Oregon a week ago.
"It's good to see him getting close to where he feels real healthy again," Howland said.
The team's injury woes have eased in the last two weeks, with only sophomore Lorenzo Mata (broken leg), senior Michael Fey (ankle, groin and shoulder) and Shipp still out.
During the toughest stretches, Howland had to get creative with his lineup, mixing and matching various pieces. The one constant was UCLA's solid play.
"It's been great to still have the success that we've had," Howland said. "It's a testament to our players. Everybody has had the opportunity to step up when called upon. These guys really like each other and they play as a team. That's what's fun."
Another key is the emergence of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on the boards. He's averaging nine rebounds in 21 starts, which ranks second in the Pac-10.
If he maintains that average, Mbah a Moute would finish as the best freshman rebounder in UCLA history. The Cameroon native uses his long arms and quickness to pluck caroms from opponents' hands.
"I feel more comfortable playing a lot," he said. "I go hard every time. I got a good feeling for the ball. Maybe I'm lucky. I get something new out of every game."
Midway through the conference schedule, the Bruins have swept road trips to Arizona and Oregon. Overall, they're 5-0 away from home, while three of their four losses had come at Pauley Pavilion.
"I knew all along this team could be at the top and remain at the top, because we definitely have the personnel," leading scorer Arron Afflalo said. "If we put our mind to it, play `D' and do all the right things, play for each other, we shouldn't lose."