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December 18, 2007

Western Illinois at UCLA Preview

UCLA's remaining stretch of games prior to the start of Pac-10 play may not prove to be that challenging, but the Bruins don't plan to take it easy.

Coming off an easy win their last time out, the eighth-ranked Bruins look to remain focused as they host Western Illinois on Tuesday night.

After falling 63-61 to then-No. 8 Texas on Dec. 2 and rallying for a 75-63 victory over Davidson on Dec. 8, UCLA (9-1) had an easier time in its 89-49 home win over Idaho State on Saturday.

The win was Ben Howland's 100th as UCLA coach. He tied the legendary John Wooden and Steve Lavin as the second-fastest to reach that milestone.

The victory opened a stretch of four straight games for the Bruins against teams without a winning record before they visit Stanford on Jan. 3 to open conference play. After Western Illinois (3-6), UCLA visits struggling Michigan (4-7) before returning home to face UC-Davis (5-5).

"Every game can be a stepping stone," said 6-foot-10 freshman Kevin Love, who had 17 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes for UCLA on Saturday. "It doesn't matter who you're playing. We have less than three weeks until we play Stanford on the road. We want to be one of those teams that gets better."

The Bruins played like a team favored to win a league title and trying to reach the Final Four for a third straight season. UCLA had a season high in points offensively and held an opponent to fewer than 50 after allowing an average of 62.0 points in its previous three contests.

The Bruins are again among the top defensive teams in the nation, allowing 54.5 points per game.

Preseason All-American guard Darren Collison matched a career-high with 20 points Saturday, and added six rebounds and five assists in his fourth game back after spraining his left knee in the preseason.

"I really wanted to send a message because everyone was saying how rusty I was," said Collison, who is averaging 14.0 points and 4.0 assists.

After starting slow and facing double-digit deficits against Texas and Davidson, the Bruins had no such trouble against Idaho State, opening with a 26-7 lead.

UCLA looks to do the same Tuesday in its second meeting against Western Illinois. The Bruins beat the Leathernecks 75-60 at home on Nov. 23, 2004, in the teams' previous meeting.

Western Illinois hasn't played since losing 64-47 to IUPUI on Dec. 8 to open Summit League play. The Leathernecks shot 28.0 percent and 4-for-21 from 3-point range in being held to a season low for points.

"We need to quit worrying about what just happened on one end and go manufacture something on the other end," Western Illinois coach Derek Thomas said.

Jerryck Owens-Murray scored 14 points in that contest and is averaging 13.0 points in his last two games - four more than his 9.0 season average.

Senior David Jackson averages a team-leading 11.6 points but was held to six versus IUPUI after scoring 22 in Western Illinois' 71-69 win over Texas-Pan American on Dec. 3, scored 12 points as a freshman for the Leathernecks in their 2004 loss to UCLA.

Western Illinois will face its second ranked opponent of the season. The Leathernecks, who have lost by double-digit margins in each of their seven defeats versus Top 25 teams since the start of the 1996-97 season, lost 77-64 to then-No. 22 Kansas State on Nov. 17.



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