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Back to 2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament coverage

2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Thursday, March 20, 2008

UCLA has lot to love

Ballyhooed big man starts it all

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photo

Kevork Djansezian/AP Photo

UCLA's Kevin love dunks against Cal during a Pac-10 tournament quarterfinal game.

UCLA Bruins

Stat Stuffer: C Kevin Love (17.3 ppg, 11.1 rpg).

Why they could win it: Best starting five in the country and plenty of recent Final Four experience.

What could cost them: A team that forces them to win with three-point shooting; the Bruins have hit just 34 percent of their treys.

Most impressive six-game roll: March 2-March 15: at Arizona, 68-66; Stanford, 77-67; California, 81-80; (Pac-10 tournament): California 88-66; Southern California, 57-54; Stanford, 67-64.

It was one of those moments that sent the television viewer hunting in the couch cushions to find the remote for the purpose of hitting the rewind button to make sure his ears weren't playing tricks.

Did Jay Bilas really say that?

Rewind. Listen again. He really said it.

Bilas, the ESPN analyst who became the media face of college basketball during Dick Vitale's two-month absence caused by vocal cord surgery, recounted what he saw UCLA freshman center Kevin Love do during a practice. Standing under the basket, Love threw a chest pass off the backboard at the other end of the court, Bilas said. Love is many things, including freakishly strong.

A 6-foot-10 freshman from Oregon, Love's outlet passing abilities call to mind a pair of big men from a bygone generation. The first, Wes Unseld of the Baltimore and then Washington Bullets, was an NBA teammate of Stan Love, Kevin's father.

The other, Bill Walton, won back-to-back titles for UCLA and had the greatest title-game performance of all-time when he scored 44 points and made 21 of 22 field goal attempts against Memphis State in 1974.

Love, whose boxy body type more closely matches that of Unseld than Walton, gets it all started for the Bruins with his famous outlet passes.

One of the two members of the speediest guard tandem in the nation usually is on the receiving end of one of Love's bullets. Darren Collison, a 6-foot point guard, and 6-3 shooting guard Russell Westbrook both have blow-by speed with the basketball, combine for 3.5 steals per game, and generally do a good job of remaining the aggressors. Collison (.507) is the more accurate three-point shooter than Westbrook (.352), the more remarkable athlete.

At forward, the Bruins have a pair of third-year starters. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a Final Four starter the past two seasons, spends most of his time inside and ranks second to Love on the team in rebounding.

Josh Shipp, injured all but four games two seasons ago, plays a role for UCLA similar to that played by Brandon Rush for Kansas. Shipp attempted more three-pointers (181) than any other three Bruins combined during the regular season.

But for a pair of controversial calls that went its way, UCLA would have ended its regular season with a two-game losing streak.

That reality might have created the misperception in the minds of some that if the Bruins needed luck to win in the Pac-10 Conference they can't be taken too seriously on a national stage.

Wrong.

The Bruins have the most talented starting five in the country and have a blend of enough speed, skill and strength to thrive in both transition and in the halfcourt.

Many tournament teams have far greater depth than the Bruins, but depth is more important in conference tournaments, when games are played on back-to-back-to-back days.

In the tournament, commercial breaks are long enough to enable coaches to stretch the minutes he gives to his key players.

UCLA's best reserves, Alfred Aboya and Lorenzo Mata-Real, both play inside and both play a physical brand of basketball. Since they come off the bench, they don't need to worry about foul trouble and have the ability to contribute to wearing out opposing post players.

Winning the Pacific-10, the nation's toughest conference, could be just the start for the Bruins.

They have a good shot at reaching their third consecutive Final Four and winning their 12th national title and first since 1995.

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