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February 29, 2008

UCLA takes care of business

TEMPE, Ariz.(AP) The UCLA Bruins like it in the desert - and they hope to come back soon.

After routing Arizona State 70-49 on Thursday night, the fourth-ranked Bruins allowed themselves to look ahead to the NCAA tournament, and a possible return to Phoenix, site of the West Regional.

"We want to be back here come tournament time," said center Kevin Love, who led UCLA with 18 points and 12 rebounds, his 17th double-double. "We want that No. 1 seed and we want to be playing close to home."

Darren Collison and Josh Shipp each added 17 points for the Bruins (25-3, 13-2 Pac-10), who have won nine of 10 and maintained their one-game lead over No. 8 Stanford in the conference race.

"I don't know if we're peaking right now," Love said. "We want to peak come tournament time. We just want to step up our level of basketball as much as we can."

UCLA always seems to step it up against Arizona State. This was UCLA's eighth straight win over the Sun Devils, and the Bruins drubbed Arizona State by a combined 54 points in the two-game season series.

The Sun Devils may have been tempted to call on newly acquired Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O'Neal, who watched from the baseline near the ASU bench. Shaq no doubt would have helped on a night the Bruins outrebounded the Sun Devils 34-20, and he could have guarded the 6-foot-10 Love, who was 6-of-11 from the floor.

Early on, the Bruins were baffled by Arizona State's zone defense. Thirteen minutes into the game, the score was tied at 11-11.

"That was one of the ugliest first halves we've played all season," Love said. "We just kept grinding it out and finally hit some 3-point shots."

Asked to explain UCLA's struggles against the zone, coach Ben Howland shook his head and said, "Just a lot of jargon that would take me a half-hour to explain. Bottom line, we weren't getting the ball inside."

The Bruins eventually began picking apart the zone from beyond the arc, hitting 6-of-11 3-pointers before halftime and 10-of-20 for the game.

"They're tough to beat already, but when they hit 50 percent from 3, it's almost impossible," Arizona State guard Derek Glasser said.

The Bruins' best long-range production came from Collison, who was 5-of-6 from beyond the arc.

His biggest 3-pointer came at the end of the half. Collison stumbled as he gathered in a long outlet pass from Shipp, then launched a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Bruins into the locker room with a 29-18 lead.

"I was going to go up for a layup, but I tripped and fell, and time was running out quick, so I had to put it up," Collison said with a chuckle. "It was a good shot. I got real lucky off the shot, and I thought that gave us a big push in the second half as well."

That bucket came 70 seconds after ASU star James Harden missed a dunk and Shipp answered with a 3-pointer. Had Harden scored, Arizona State would have been within 23-20 heading into the final minute of the half.

"Obviously the missed dunk by Harden was a huge play," Howland said. "It would have been a three-point game."

The play diminished in importance as UCLA pulled away in the second half, but the freshman still felt bad about blowing an easy opportunity.

"That was a key play," Howland said. "I should have finished the bucket."

Collison wasn't the only Bruin who was zeroing in from afar. Shipp had missed his last 20 3-pointers coming in, but he went 4-for-8.

Shipp, Collison and Russell Westbrook each hit 3-pointers early in the second half to spark a 15-5 UCLA run that blew the game open.

The Sun Devils (17-10, 7-8) had hoped to spring an upset and solidify their bid for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2003. But they struggled against the Bruins' defense, which allows 57.9 points per game, sixth in the nation.

Harden and Rihards Kuksiks each had 11 points for Arizona State, which has lost eight of 11.

"Obviously, their defense was excellent for 40 minutes," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. ``Very few things came easy for us offensively."



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