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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT | UCLA NOTEBOOK

Bruins Are Patently Optimistic

March 18, 1998|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bruin Coach Steve Lavin said Tuesday he would choose between forward Travis Reed or swingman Rico Hines--both freshmen--to replace injured Baron Davis in the UCLA starting lineup Friday against Kentucky in the third round of the South Regional.

Even though Reed played with the first team at the end of Tuesday's practice, Lavin said he had made no final decision and wasn't leaning either way at the moment.

Meanwhile, the Bruins, as they have become accustomed to doing, determinedly stuck to a positive mind-set despite the loss.

"Don't get me wrong, Baron's a tremendous loss," senior forward Kris Johnson said. "But he's gone, and we can't do anything about it. And I think once we convince ourselves we can win without him, we will win this game.

"I think if it had come with any other team, it probably would've devastated them. But this team has been through too many problems, this team has been through too much turmoil and bad things for this to be the dagger stuck in our hearts."

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No matter who else starts, the main player affected by Davis' absence--and shouldered with more responsibilities--will probably be his backcourt mate, Earl Watson, who rebounded with a solid game against Michigan on Sunday after a wobbly performance in the first round.

Can Watson duplicate the 1995 national-title game feat of Cameron Dollar, who stepped in to run the team when point guard Tyus Edney couldn't play?

"I've got to be Earl," Watson said. "I can't be Cameron Dollar or Tyus Edney. . . . I can't change my role. The only thing I can do is play like I did in the Michigan game."

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UCLA's three seniors came off the practice floor growling after a spirited, practice-closing scrimmage in which the second team, lifted by Brandon Loyd's scorching three-point shooting, defeated the first.

"We were disappointed in the scrimmage there," Johnson said. "I think this team is trying to get to a level of focus. . . . Before, we'd kind of be, 'Oh, so what?'

"Everything was business today. I was [mad], because of the simple fact that they were killing us. We're just not going to let that slide."

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Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith, on the impact of UCLA losing Davis: "It probably won't affect our game plan as much as he does UCLA. Obviously, he's a big part of their offense and their system and their team. And any time you lose a player of that caliber and ability, it's going to hurt you."

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