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November 12, 2008

UCLA opens hoops play

Tonight at 7:05 PM PST at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA will open their season in earnest and host the western region of the 2k Sports Classic Tournament benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. If the Bruins win tonight against Prairie View A&M then they will move and play tomorrow night against the winner of Miami of Ohio/Weber State game.

Not only will those in attendance be helping a tremendous cause that has raised over four million dollars since 1996, but they will be able to get a glimpse of UCLA's freshman class rated No. 1 in the nation by Rivals.com.

Perhaps the biggest question facing the Bruins entering into the season is how will they do hitting the glass?

Gone from last year's squad is UCLA's top four rebounders and that is a grave concern for UCLA head coach Ben Howland.

"The number one problem we have that I worry about going into the season is we lost our four leading rebounders (Kevin Love, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Lorenzo Mata-Real and Russell Westbrook) from last year," Howland said. "So our leading returning rebounder from last year (Josh Shipp) averaged three rebounds a game. We have to have all five players rebound."

"We have to be a scrappy team," Howland said. "Because we don't have one guy who is going to average 10 rebounds a game."

How the Bruins rebound as a team will be something to watch as the season progresses. They won't have a Kevin Love averaging 10-plus boards a game. This team will have to hit the glass by committee and show a lot of heart to be a good rebounding team.

If the Bruins are able to rebound then it will allow them to get out more on the open floor and get easy baskets. Rebounding has always been a hallmark of a Ben Howland coached team and the pursuit of that aim is still in place, but how good a rebounding team the Bruins will be won't be answered right away.

One thing that this Bruin team has the potential to be is a very good shooting team and that could open things up for them on the offensive end. In the past the Bruins have had trouble against zone defenses but that may not be the case for this team.

"Just watching us shoot the other day in pregame, shot after shot were going in from different guys," Howland said. "This will be one of our better shooting teams since I've been here, if not the best."

Having true freshman Jrue Holiday on the team is a huge benefit. Not only can he spot up and hit the jumper, but he can create his own shot off the bounce. In the two exhibition games Holiday is 7-15 shooting from the field including 3-6 from beyond the three-point arc. Howland is obviously pleased with Holiday's 5.5 rebounds a game average.

It appears that Josh Shipp's stroke has returned based on the two exhibition games. He has hit on 10-15 from the field while hitting on 66.7 percent of his shots. From the line, Shipp is a perfect 7-7.

The impact of Darren Collison's return is huge on and off the floor. He has been providing leaders for the younger players especially on how to approach practice and games. Collison has a team leading six steals and is 50 percent from the field and is averaging 11.0 points per game.

Senior Alfred Aboya is hitting 50 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the charity stripe. He has obviously put in the work this offseason on his stroke.

Junior James Keefe tied true frosh J'mison Morgan in rebounding for the two exhibitions. Both players averaged 6.5 boards a game.

Not a lot is known about Prairie View A&M except that they like to play up tempo and want to run.

"Prairie View is a more up and down team," Howland said. "Their general thing is get up and down, which is great. We will welcome that."


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