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December 8, 2007

Davidson at UCLA Preview

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) UCLA's matchup against Davidson in the John Wooden Classic looks a lot more enticing than it did when originally announced.

That's because the seventh-ranked Bruins (7-1) will face a mid-major team that put scares into No. 1 North Carolina and Duke this season.

The pesky Wildcats (3-4) lost both of those games, by four to the Tar Heels and by six to the Blue Devils, then ranked seventh.

"Those games were right down to the wire," UCLA coach Ben Howland said Friday. "They had leads at Carolina. They're that good."

Davidson coach Bob McKillop beefed up his team's schedule after losing to Maryland in the first round of last season's NCAA tournament, hoping the Wildcats would be more experienced next time around.

"It makes you significantly better with your fundamental aspects of the game than if you were playing teams that would not push buttons to beat you as well as they do," he said.

UCLA is coming off its first loss, 63-61 to Texas in which the Bruins gave up an offensive rebound that led to a dunk with 8 seconds remaining last Sunday.

"You're always more intense after a loss because of the disappointment," Howland said.

This week's practices included 11 healthy players for the first time this season. Previously, only eight scholarship players were available.

The Bruins and Wildcats will play the second game of Saturday's Wooden Classic doubleheader. Two schools representing the opposite ends of California, Saint Mary's (6-0) and San Diego State (8-1), will meet in the opener.

Freshman Kevin Love leads four UCLA starters in double figures, with 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds.

McKillop compared UCLA's transition game to Texas Tech, which played Davidson in the NIT several years ago.

"I was very impressed with how quick they changed in transition and we started calling that the Texas two-step," he said. "UCLA is known for their defense, but they got as good a Texas two-step as I've seen and of course being triggered by Kevin Love makes it even more lethal."

Davidson's Stephen Curry, the son of NBA 3-point specialist Del Curry, averages 26 points, making him the first prolific scorer the Bruins have played this season.

"It's just a big challenge because he's such a good shooter," Howland said, comparing Curry's quick release of the ball to former Arizona star Salim Stoudamire.

"He's also a good ballhander because he can put the ball on the floor, he can penetrate, make plays for himself, make plays for others. He creates a lot of problems."

It'll be guard Russell Westbrook's job to stop Curry, with help provided by swingman Michael Roll, Josh Shipp and point guard Darren Collison.

Curry scored 24 points against North Carolina and 20 against Duke, adding to the sophomore guard's double-figure streak of 34 consecutive games.

"He balances the chip on his shoulder with a sense of humility that is rather unique in our world of competitive athletics today and he's answered every bell," McKillop said.

"He's played against some of the best defenders in the country in the first three weeks of the season and done quite well for himself."

So why the chip on Curry's shoulder?

"Well, he's playing at Davidson College instead of the ACC or the Big East or the Southeastern Conference or the Pac-10," McKillop said.

T he Wildcats also feature guard Jason Richards, the nation's assist leader at 9.4 per game. He had 14 points and 11 assists against Duke.

Roll is expected to play much more than the 5 minutes he did in his season debut against Texas. Collison, however, isn't likely to duplicate the 39 minutes he logged after returning last week from a left knee sprain.

"It was really unfair to play him 39 minutes because you're getting diminishing return on yourself when you're playing tired, tired, tired at that high level," Howland said. "That's my fault. It's hard for me to pull that guy out, especially a guy like Darren who plays both ends and really has pride in his defense."

The only other time Davidson and UCLA have played was in 1975, Wooden's final season when the Bruins won by 27 points.

They advanced to the Final Four, beating Louisville in overtime before Wooden announced he would retire after the championship game. The Bruins responded with a victory over Kentucky for Wooden's 10th and final national title.

The 97-year-old coach said he didn't recall the Davidson game.

"I remember the Louisville game," he said, smiling. "I remember the championship game against Kentucky."



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