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2007-2008 UCLA Bruins Preview

by Rob Carpentier | December 10th, 2007

2006-2007 Record: 30-6 (15-3) 1st in the Pac-10

Postseason Games:
03/08/07 vs California (Pac-10 Tournament) L OT 69-76
03/15/07 vs Weber State W 70-42
03/17/07 vs Indiana W 54-49
03/22/07 vs #10 Pittsburgh W 64-55
03/24/07 vs #2 Kansas W 68-55
03/31/07 vs #3 Florida L 66-76

2007-2008 Returning Statistical Leaders:
13.3 PPG – Josh Shipp

7.4 RPG – Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

5.7 APG – Darren Collison

Starting Lineup and Key Stats
C – Kevin Love 6’9” Fr. #1-ranked frosh post in nation

PF – Luc Richard Mbah a Moute 6’7” Jr. 87 offensive boards in 06-07

SF – Josh Shipp 6’5” Jr. 78% free-throw shooter

SG – Russell Westbrook 6’4” Soph. Best athlete on team

PG – Darren Collison 6’1” Jr. 80% free throw shooter

Key Player Loss: Arron Afflalo

Impact Newcomer: Kevin Love. This young man is truly beyond his years on the offensive end. He currently leads the 07-08 Bruins in both scoring and rebounding at 16.7 PPG and 10.1 RPG. He shoots 76% from the charity stripe and is even a three point threat. He uses his body in a superlative manner to make up for his lack or athleticism. And then there are those outlet passes. Love is already among the top two or three big men in the nation at making outlets.

For as good as Love is on the offensive end, he is still a work in progress on defense. Love could still shed a few pounds to make him a bit lighter on his feet, but he’s still learning coach Ben Howland’s defensive scheme which relies on a lot of help and rotation. It was striking to see Love out at the end of UCLA’s lone loss this year, to Texas. If he improves his defensive game, this team will be very difficult to beat.

Tough Question: Who shoots in crunch time? This is the area where Afflalo will be missed most. Westbrook has already shown that he can be the lockdown defender that Afflalo was for the Bruins. But for the past two seasons, when the game came down to the last shot, everyone in the building knew that Afflalo was going to take it for UCLA.

Now the Bruins have several options, all of them unproven. The player with the ball in his hands at the end of a game will invariably be Collison. He had a very good three -point shooting percentage last season and he is clearly the team’s floor leader. But he has yet to show the kind of personality necessary to take the big shot.

Shipp was anointed in the pre-season as the player Howland thought most likely to inherit Afflalo’s mantle. Many close to the program, however, believe that Howland was publicly saying this as a motivational tool that was geared towards Shipp’s defense. He is the savviest of the Bruins and finds clever ways to score, but can he do it at the end of a game?

Love is a very talented big man on the offensive end. He’s used to taking big shots in big games and he has the personality that matches. Trouble is, do the Bruins want to rely on a freshman to lead them? Also, the Bruins have a relatively hard time getting him the ball during the course of a game. What makes them think the last 60 seconds or so will be any different?

Westbrook is clearly the most athletic player on the roster. He has the ability to shoot from deep or drive with impunity. He has become a pretty good passer, too. But he was a bench player last season and was only a starter this year because of the injuries to Collison and junior Mike Roll. Does he have it in him?

The Bruins need to figure this one out before March. Because of Howland, they should have it figured out by February, but in the loss to Texas, they showed that they aren’t there yet. It says here that Westbrook and Shipp become the go-to guys.

Get Him On the Floor: Lorenzo Mata-Real. Here’s a young man that has been a two-year starter on a two-time Final Four team. He was replaced by Love in the starting lineup from the get-go, but you heard no complaints from Mata-Real. He’s the consummate team player and is the team’s best interior defender. The kid is a warrior and the Bruins need that mentality. Look for Mata-Real and Love to be on the floor more together as the season progresses.

Point Guard Impact: Collison was the consensus top-ranked point guard in the country in the pre-season. A knee injury suffered in an exhibition game in early November have set him back a bit, but the nation saw how he shut down Texas’ D.J. Augustin in the second half of their game. Collison was at about 75% for that game. Without him, the Bruins are an Elite 8 team; with him, they’re a favorite for the National Title.

Expectations: This is probably UCLA’s most talented and most balanced lineup since Howland arrived in Westwood. The last two teams went to the Final Four with an offensive hole in the middle. With Love, that no longer exists. The Bruins and their fans expect no less than a return trip to the Final Four and many expect a 12th banner to be hung at Pauley Pavilion.

Final Thoughts: The Bruins will clearly go through growing pains without Afflalo, and the question of who does take that critical shot looms large over this team. They are as talented and deep as any team in the country, and with Howland they have arguably the best coach in the land. But the real question is who is going to be the leader? Shipp’s personality can rub some the wrong way and Love wants to be a leader, but he’s a frosh. Many felt that Collison was the everyday leader of last year’s Bruins, calling out all of the players, including Afflalo, in practice. So what have we here? It’s a question of chemistry, nothing else.

If the Bruins find the right chemistry, they will win their 12th national title.

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