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January 2, 2009
UCLA travels to Oregon State
While UCLA begins its quest toward extending one conference streak, Oregon State looks to end another.
The teams on opposite ends of the Pac-10 standings last season open league play Friday night when the No. 12 Bruins visit the Beavers in Corvallis.
UCLA (10-2) enters the league opener looking to claim its fourth straight outright regular-season conference title. No team has done that since the Bruins won 13 straight Pac-10 crowns from 1967-79.
The Bruins, who went 16-2 in the conference last season, have played well of late, winning by an average of 26.3 points during a six-game winning streak since losing 68-64 at then-No. 8 Texas on Dec. 4.
"I definitely think this team's improving," UCLA senior Josh Shipp said.
Oregon State (5-5), meanwhile, enters this contest trying to snap its 20-game Pac-10 losing streak in its first season under coach Craig Robinson, the brother-in-law of president-elect Barack Obama.
The Beavers went 0-18 in league play last season, becoming the first team to go winless in the conference's regular season since it expanded from eight schools in 1978.
Robinson, who recently spent 20 months on the campaign trail with his sister and future First Lady, Michelle Obama, guided Brown to a school-record 19 victories last season.
"It won't take me 20 months to turn this program around," said Robinson, who played for the legendary Pete Carril at Princeton. "It's going to take longer than that. We have to recruit some better players, we have to get better at what we're doing, and we have to change the culture from losing to winning."
That still makes ending the streak a huge task against UCLA, which has won seven in a row over Oregon State and the last three on the Beavers' home floor.
In his first game since missing two with a sprained thumb, Shipp scored 16 points in UCLA's 78-55 win over Louisiana Tech on Sunday. Freshman guard Jrue Holiday added 12 points, a career-high 10 rebounds and five assists for the Bruins, who allowed 57.9 points per game during their non-conference slate.
"The whole purpose of the non-conference schedule is to get ready for conference," said UCLA coach Ben Howland, who has guided the Bruins to a 45-9 league record over the last three seasons. "We have five of our first seven games on the road. I'm hoping our veteran leadership will be key for that."
Shipp, averaging 11.7 points, and preseason All-American Darren Collison, who averages a team-leading 14.3 points and 5.3 assists per game, will be asked to provide that leadership while young players like Holiday (10.6 ppg) continue to contribute.
Collison averaged 23.5 points on 13-for-19 shooting in two games versus Oregon State in 2007-08.
The Beavers, whose last league victory came at home against Washington on Feb. 22, 2007, have won four straight games entering this contest.
Sophomore Calvin Haynes scored 24 points in the Beavers' 59-50 win over Seattle on Monday for its fifth win in six games since snapping their 25-game losing streak with a victory at Fresno State on Nov. 30.
Haynes, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, is averaging 18.8 points in four games since missing the first six due to an academic suspension.
Oregon State has lost 22 straight contests against ranked opponents dating to a 75-65 victory over then-No. 24 Arizona on Jan. 12, 2006.