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February 10, 2008
UCLA's runs to the Final Four in each of the past two seasons have had a lot in common - stifling defense, accurate shooting and outstanding guard play.
They've also both included a road loss against Washington.
The fifth-ranked Bruins (21-2, 9-1 Pac-10) look to win their sixth straight game while trying to avoid a fourth consecutive loss in Seattle when they face the Huskies on Sunday.
UCLA was 13th in the nation in scoring defense and first in the Pac-10 in field-goal shooting combined over the past two seasons, but has been haunted by one or the other in each of its last two visits to Washington.
On Feb. 11, 2006, defense was the issue as the Bruins, who yielded 58.7 points per game that season, gave up an uncharacteristic 42 in the second half on their way to a 70-67 loss.
Last season, it was their shooting that doomed them. UCLA shot 31.3 percent from the field - Darren Collison went 2-for-15 - in losing 61-51 to the unranked Huskies. That remains the Bruins' worst shooting performance in the past three seasons.
Then again, neither of those UCLA teams had Kevin Love. The freshman center is averaging 17.7 points and his 11.1 rebounds per game are among the top 10 in the nation.
Coach Ben Howland calls Love "the best freshman I ever had. He's unselfish to a fault. He's improving right now and that's exciting."
During UCLA's five-game winning streak, Love's averaging 20.8 points and 13.8 rebounds. He had 16 points and nine boards on Thursday in the team's 67-59 win at No. 17 Washington State, but simply being on the floor opened things up for Collison.
"It's Kevin's presence," said Collison, who scored all 18 of his points in the second half with the Cougars surrounding Love. "He causes a lot of attention. They did all they can. They were doubling him, hedging him, doing anything to keep the ball out of his hands."
Like Love, Collison has also taken his game to another level since the Bruins' lone Pac-10 loss, 72-63 to Southern California on Jan. 19. In the five games since, he's averaged 19.8 points and 5.6 assists, shooting 58.0 percent from the field and 97.1 percent (33-of-34) from the free-throw line.
Collison also averages 1.9 of the Bruins' conference-leading 7.1 steals, and had four against Washington State. Howland again has his team playing terrific defense - UCLA is giving up just 57.9 points per game, making it one of the 10 stingiest teams in the country.
The last UCLA team to allow fewer than 58.0 points per game was the 1950 squad, which surrendered an average of 53.5 in John Wooden's third year as coach.
Washington (12-11, 3-7) comes in having lost four in a row following a three-game winning streak. Its last three losses have all been at home, the latest a 73-59 defeat against USC on Thursday.
Coach Lorenzo Romar insisted his team would remain optimistic despite its seventh loss in 10 conference games.
"They'll come back ... and I'm sure they'll be feeling upbeat," Romar said. "We can't hang our heads. That's when it can get bad."
Love will have his hands full inside with Jon Brockman, the Pac-10's leading rebounder. The 6-foot-7 junior averages 11.3 boards to go along with 18.4 points.
Brockman had 16 points and eight rebounds at UCLA on Jan. 10, but the Bruins got 18 points from Russell Westbrook and 11 points and seven rebounds from Love in their 69-55 win.