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February 7, 2009

Basketball Preview: Notre Dame @ No. 15 UCLA

Notre Dame's trip to Pauley Pavilion to take on No. 12/15-ranked UCLA in the midst of the Big East schedule was supposed to be a journey the veteran Irish were well equipped to handle.

Instead, the reeling Irish-losers of six straight-could be walking directly into another ambush.

The walls are caving in on Notre Dame, which quickly has fallen out of contention for an NCAA tournament bid and is now just trying to tread water. The Irish could recover in time to land that coveted spot in the field of 64. But they would have to rebuild their resume quickly and win nearly every one of their remaining eight Big East games-or make a deep run in the Big East tournament-to have a chance to land that bid.

A victory over UCLA would help, but that's a mighty tall task under the circumstances. The Bruins, coached by Ben Howland in his sixth season in Westwood, are experienced, tall, deep and nearly unbeatable at Pauley Pavilion, where UCLA has won 607 of 697 games played.

Through the years, Notre Dame has had success at Pauley, winning six times in 21 tries. But with the Irish struggling as badly as they are, this is a very tall task for Mike Brey's squad.

Six different UCLA players have led the Bruins in scoring in games this season and seven have paced the squad in rebounding. Compare that to Notre Dame, which has been led in scoring and rebounding by Luke Harangody in each of the last 14 games.

UCLA currently is riding a three-game winning streak. The Bruins defeated Cal, Stanford and USC at Pauley Pavilion by a combined 65 points. UCLA's only home loss this season came against Arizona State in overtime. The Bruins also fell by 11 to Washington on the road. They lead the Pac 10 by a game over the Huskies.

The Bruins shoot the basketball with incredible accuracy. Six of their top eight scorers have made more than half of their field-goal attempts on a team that shoots 50.1 percent from the field.

Nine players average at least 11 minutes playing time per game while leading scorer Darren Collison, the 6-foot-0, 160-pound senior point guard, is the only player averaging more than 30 minutes per game.

Collison is deadly accurate shooting the basketball. He is converting 53.2 percent of his field-goal attempts and 93.3 percent of his free-throw attempts while dishing out five assists per game.

Six-foot-five senior Josh Shipp is second on the team in scoring with a 12.6 mark while converting 81.7 percent of his free throws.

The frontline boasts a pair of 6-foot-9 players-senior Alfred Aboya (9.3 ppg., 5.6 rpg.) and junior Nikola Dragovic (8.1 ppg., 3.4 rpg.).

The lone non-upperclassman in the starting lineup is highly touted 6-foot-3 freshman Jrue Holiday, who is averaging 10.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game while shooting 51.2 percent from the field.

The bench chips in about 20 points, led by 6-foot-5 junior Michael Roll (7.7 ppg.), who leads the team in three-pointers made with 36 while converting 51.7 percent of his shots from the field and 53.7 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.

A pair of 6-foot-8, 235-pounders comes off the bench to contribute significantly-freshman Drew Gordon (4.1 ppg., 3.9 rpg.) and junior James Keefe (3.5 ppg., 4.1 rpg.).

The third freshman in the top nine rotation, 6-foot-5 Malcolm Lee (3.9 ppg.), is shooting 51.9 percent from the field.

Mike Brey intends to shake up the lineup a bit by starting junior Jonathan Peoples over veteran point guard Tory Jackson. That would end a 74-game starting streak for Jackson.

Look for the Irish to remain competitive with the Bruins, who are coming off a rivalry game against USC with the Irish sandwiched in between the Trojans and Arizona State, which handed the Bruins their only loss at home this season. The 10 a.m. PT tip-off (1 p.m. ET) may find the Bruins a bit sluggish as well.

Pointspread: UCLA by 10
Prister's Prediction: UCLA 75, Notre Dame 68
Season record: 14-7 overall; 5-9 vs. points



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