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December 22, 2007
UCLA needed a second-half comeback to beat one Big Ten team from Michigan this season. Things should be much easier when it faces the conference's other school from that state.
The eighth-ranked Bruins look for their fourth straight victory when they visit struggling Michigan on Saturday in their first true road game of the season.
UCLA (10-1) overcame an 11-point halftime deficit to beat then-No. 10 Michigan State 68-63 on Nov. 20 in the finals of the CBE Classic in Kansas City, Mo.
Although the Bruins will play on an opponent's home court for the first time, they likely won't face a similar challenge when they face the Wolverines (4-7), who have lost five of their last six contests.
Saturday is the only true non-conference road game this season for UCLA, which has won three straight since losing 63-61 to then-No. 8 Texas on Dec. 2.
After facing Michigan, the Bruins, who have had little trouble winning their last two contests, won't play until hosting UC Davis on Dec. 29 before opening Pac-10 play at Stanford on Jan. 3.
"We got off to a good start," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We're right on the brink of getting into Pac-10 play. Our season is all going to rest on how we do in Pac-10."
The Bruins' preparation appears to be going well as they attempt to win a third straight regular-season conference title.
In their most recent contest, freshman Kevin Love went 5-for-5 from the field and 5-for-5 from the free-throw line for 16 points in the Bruins' 77-52 victory over Western Illinois on Tuesday.
"Sometime you do lose a little bit of focus," said the 6-foot-10 Love of his perfect night. "It just happens, whether you realize it or not."
Love, who averages a team-leading 16.6 points, had 17 in the Bruins' 89-49 victory over Idaho State last Saturday.
UCLA has played well since its loss to Texas, outscoring its last three opponents - including a pesky Davidson team - by an average of 25.6 points and shooting 52.2 percent. Its opponents are shooting 40.2 percent during that span.
About the only concern the Bruins might have heading into Saturday's contest is the health of forward Lorenzo Mata-Real. One of the team's top reserves, the 6-9 senior bruised his left shoulder against Western Illinois.
"Hopefully, it's nothing more serious," Howland said.
The young Wolverines hope to bounce back from a 78-68 home loss to Central Michigan last Saturday. Michigan allowed the Chippewas to shoot 50.9 percent from the field, while it committed a season-high 23 turnovers on its own end.
"We just have to get stronger with the ball," said Michigan forward Ron Coleman, one of only two seniors on the roster. "We've got to crash harder and snatch balls. Teams are going to come out and pressure you hard, and we have to work through it."
Sophomore DeShawn Sims had 17 points against Central Michigan, one game after scoring 22 in Michigan's 103-87 win over Oakland on Dec. 12.
Michigan, which last beat UCLA 70-66 on Dec. 27, 2003, will face its fourth Top 25 team this season after losing to Georgetown, Butler and Duke.
Wolverines first-year coach John Beilein went 2-0 against the Bruins over the previous two seasons while coaching West Virginia.