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February 23, 2008
A year ago, Kevin Love was cheered wildly whenever he took the court in the state of Oregon. That was far from the case when he played in Eugene last month, but in UCLA's rematch with the Ducks on Saturday, he can expect a much warmer reception.
Love and the sixth-ranked Bruins try to build upon their lead in the Pac-10 when they host Oregon, which is trying to climb back into the NCAA tournament picture.
UCLA (23-3, 11-2) traveled to Love's home state on Jan. 24 to face Oregon - where Love's father Stan played - and the star freshman was booed mercifully, prompting the school's athletic director to issue a formal apology.
But Love, who grew up in Lake Oswego and spurned Oregon, didn't seem fazed by the jeers. He had 26 points and what was then a UCLA freshman-record 18 rebounds (he grabbed 21 a game later) in the Bruins' 80-75 victory.
"I can't tell you if there was a better feeling in my whole basketball career than just walking off that court, taking the higher road and just feeling good about that game," Loves said at the time.
That performance came in the midst of a five-game stretch where Love averaged 21.2 points and 14.4 rebounds. He's averaged a relatively modest 13.3 points and 9.8 boards since, but UCLA remains one game ahead of No. 9 Stanford in the Pac-10.
Love played just 21 minutes, scoring 11 points and grabbing nine rebounds as the Bruins cruised to an 84-49 win over Oregon State on Thursday.
"That'll keep me with fresh legs for (Oregon)," Love said.
Though Love leads UCLA in points (17.1) and rebounds (11.0), the Bruins are far from a one-man show. Russell Westbrook has been excellent lately, averaging 15.4 points in his last five games.
When Ben Howland coached Pittsburgh from 1999-03, his teams became known for their defense, and that reputation has carried over to UCLA.
The Bruins have been in the top 20 in the nation in scoring defense for each of the past two seasons, and they're even better in 2007-08, allowing just 57.6 points per game. UCLA has yielded 47.5 in its last two.
Oregon (15-11, 6-8) was a game away from joining UCLA in the Final Four last spring before losing to eventual national champion Florida, and the Ducks have been one of the country's bigger disappointments this season.
They improved to 12-4 overall and 3-0 against Top 25 teams on Jan. 13 with a 71-66 win over the Cardinal, but have lost seven of 10 since, including an 0-4 mark against ranked opponents.
Oregon's biggest problem is its defense. It allows 73.0 points per game, second-most in the Pac-10.
The Ducks let Southern California freshman O.J. Mayo score 32 points on Thursday night as the Trojans overcame a nine-point halftime deficit to win 81-75.
Like UCLA, Oregon features a balanced scoring attack, with four players averaging at least 13.5 points. Malik Hairston leads the way with 16.4 per game, but the senior guard has had a February to forget. He's scoring just 10.8 per game and is only 3-of-17 (17.6 percent) from 3-point range.
In six career games against the Bruins, Hairston is averaging 9.0 points.
Oregon has lost six of seven in this series and four straight at Pauley Pavilion. The Ducks' lone win in the last seven, though, came on Jan. 6, 2007 - 68-66 over the top-ranked Bruins