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College Basketball

Duke Is Just What UCLA Doesn't Need

November 30, 2002|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — The scent of humiliation is in the air. UCLA could be in for the college basketball equivalent of a public flogging in the town square.

Just when the struggling Bruins desperately need to retreat from scrutiny and gain confidence by destroying a patsy somewhere on the other side of the planet -- say, a collection of Belgian novices in a fog-shrouded London gym -- the Bruins instead get No. 6 Duke.

On national television. In an event named after John Wooden and played in the cradle of basketball. With the legendary 92-year-old Bruin coach in attendance.

As for the Belgian team, Duke had first dibs.

The Blue Devils played in something called the International Challenge Series in London in October, winning three of four games and avenging their loss in the final.

The advantages were huge for a team that -- like UCLA -- had enormous holes to fill after losing three starters. The Blue Devils began practicing in September, beat the Racing Basket Antwerpen of Belgium, the Brighton Bears and the London Towers, and returned home with answers.

After victories over Army and Davidson on American hardwood, Duke (2-0) is closer to midseason form than any team in the nation.

"They went overseas, got extra games and had more practice time," UCLA Coach Steve Lavin said. "It was a great opportunity for them to take advantage of a rule.

"Ten extra days of practice, and four exhibition games, that's something we could obviously have used."

UCLA dropped its opener to San Diego, 86-81 in overtime, on Tuesday, and also lost its two exhibitions. Problems are rampant, yet the issues are similar to ones Duke faced.

Departed center Dan Gadzuric, forward Matt Barnes and guard Billy Knight combined for 51% of UCLA's scoring and 46% of its rebounding.

Only forward Jason Kapono and point guard Cedric Bozeman returned to the starting lineup.

Departed guard and national player of the year Jason Williams, All-American forward Mike Dunleavy and center Carlos Boozer combined for 54% of the Blue Devil scoring and 52% of their rebounding.

Only forward Dahntay Jones and point guard Chris Duhon returned to the starting lineup.

"There's a lot of discovery that will go on," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It's as new of a team as you could have. But I don't want any cop-outs because of youth or inexperience."

He hasn't needed any. With a roster that includes six freshmen -- four were McDonald's All-Americans -- Duke is averaging 98 points. Freshman forward Shavlik Randolph, averaging 20 points a game, and freshman guard J.J. Redick, 14.5, are the leading scorers. Another freshman, forward-center Shelden Williams, is averaging nine points.

Youth-fueled mistakes occurred -- Duke had 21 turnovers against Davidson -- but this is an exciting time for Krzyzewski.

"What I like about our [freshman] class is, first of all, it's deep," he said. "We need them. Secondly, they are talented kids and they are a variety of talents.

"The environment for us to develop in is outstanding."

That's not the case for UCLA. Freshman centers Michael Fey and Ryan Hollins did not produce a point or a rebound against San Diego. Their playing time against the Blue Devils is expected to be extremely limited.

Duke will crank up the tempo and put the onus on Bruin sophomore Bozeman, who will have his hands full with Duhon. Jones, one of the best defenders in the nation, will try to keep Kapono's touches to a minimum.

UCLA needs strong performances from sophomore forward Dijon Thompson -- who had a career-high 21 points and five assists against San Diego -- senior guard Ray Young and junior center T.J. Cummings to stay close.

"Duke plays great defense," Lavin said. "You have to take care of the ball because they put such great pressure on you. They make you pay for that pressure.

"They get you to hurry up, running around like a hamster, frantic. You bounce the ball on your feet and they go on a 20-0 blitz."

Lavin knows the feeling. Duke eliminated UCLA from the 2001 NCAA tournament the last time the teams met, a 76-63 Blue Devil victory in the Sweet Sixteen. UCLA shot 38% and Duke went on to win the national championship.

The Blue Devils crushed the Bruins in 1998, 120-84, a year after UCLA had shocked Duke in Lavin's first season, 73-69.

Those games were in February. This one comes on the last day of a month in which UCLA typically struggles and Duke dominates.

The Blue Devils are 63-8 during November in 23 seasons under Krzyzewski and have won 18 November games in succession.

UCLA is 10-9 in November in seven seasons under Lavin, who minimizes the importance of any game before Christmas.

But this one can't be downplayed. Not when it is associated with Wooden. Not when it will be televised coast to coast. With nowhere to hide, UCLA must come out fighting.

"We've won a lot of these nonconference TV games nobody thought we'd win," Kapono said. "Can this team do that? We'll see."

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