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November 30, 2007

Surprising Longhorns will be tested by UCLA

The Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series made its debut Thursday night, and it takes center stage Sunday with its biggest matchup.

Everybody was on the Pac-10 as the strongest conference in the nation this season, but the Big 12 has been a big surprise in the early-going. It has surged to the No. 2 spot in the Rivals.com BCS Conference Power Rankings behind the play of Texas A&M, Texas and Kansas, all of whom are unbeaten along with Baylor.

The Aggies, Longhorns and Jayhawks figure to be severely tested Sunday by Pac-10 teams, with Texas at UCLA, Texas A&M at Arizona, and Kansas at USC.

Here's a closer look at the Longhorns-Bruins matchup, which will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Net.

Game of the Week: Texas (6-0) at UCLA (7-0)
Texas' D.J. Augustin vs. UCLA's Darren Collison
EDGE: Texas Augustin has gotten off to a hot start this season, shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and averaging 17.5 points to go with 7.0 assists and 2.3 steals. Collison made his season debut Wednesday after recovering from a sprained left knee, and he posted 14 points, five assists and no turnovers in 26 minutes. These are two of the fastest guards in the country, but you have to give a slight edge to the player who has been healthy all season.
A.J. Abrams vs. Josh Shipp
EDGE: UCLA Abrams is the Longhorns' leading scorer (20.7 ppg), and he has been on fire from long range. He's shooting nearly 50 percent from 3-point range and has made 4.5 3-pointers per game. Shipp is averaging 15.4 points, and he figures to be a matchup problem for Abrams, who is 6 inches shorter. Like Abrams, Shipp is shooting the ball extremely well (better than 50 percent, too).
Connor Atchley vs. Kevin Love
EDGE: UCLA Atchley, a junior, had the best game of his career in the Longhorns' rout of Tennessee with 22 points and 11 rebounds. It's the only game in which he has had more than five rebounds. Love, Rivals.com's No. 1 center in the class of 2007, has lived up to every bit of the hype. He leads the Bruins in scoring (18.1 points) and rebounding (10.6). He is the biggest reason to like UCLA in this game.
Justin Mason vs. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
EDGE: UCLA Mason is a third guard who, like Augustin and Abrams, is playing more than 30 minutes per game. He's an excellent decision-maker whose assist-to-turnover ratio is better than 4-1. Mbah a Moute does a little bit of everything for the Bruins, though perhaps nothing more important than his work on the defensive end. He has guarded every position on the floor quite capably.
Damion James vs. Alfred Aboya
EDGE: Texas James makes it all five starters scoring in double figures for the Longhorns and all five shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. He also is UT's leading rebounder (8.5). Aboya has a fractured orbital bone around his right eye and is playing with goggles. He brings size and athleticism, but his numbers (3.7 points, 2.6 rebounds) reveal he's not a big factor.
EDGE: UCLA The Longhorns' bench is averaging 15.5 points per game, led by freshman forward Alexis Wangmene's 5.3. He is the only non-starter who averages more than 10.5 minutes. The Bruins' bench is averaging 17.4 points. With Collison back in the lineup, Russell Westbrook will come off the bench after starting the first seven games. Westbrook (13.3 points, 6.3 assists) has done an outstanding job filling in and probably will play plenty of minutes alongside Collison. The Bruins also have another quality reserve in frontcourter Lorenzo Mata-Real (5.7 points, 7.4 rebounds).
EDGE: UCLA Rick Barnes and Ben Howland are proven commodities, and both have their teams already playing at an extremely high level. Texas is shooting a stunning 55.6 percent as a team, with only one player one shooting less than 50 percent. The Longhorns also are holding opponents to 35.5 percent shooting from the floor. UCLA is shooting 47.6 percent and holding opponents to 38.6 percent. The Bruins have locked horns with Michigan State and Maryland, teams that play much better defense than anyone the Longhorns have faced. Howland's team is deeper and will play the better defense in this one.
The pick
UCLA 78, Texas 70

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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