He is averaging 10.2 points a game, certainly no embarrassment for a freshman, and although he almost always takes on the toughest defensive assignment for the UCLA Bruins, freshman guard Arron Afflalo said he is still looking for a comfort zone in Coach Ben Howland's offense.
In Pacific 10 Conference games, Afflalo's scoring average has dropped to 9.0 points, and since the first USC game he is averaging only 7.5 shots.
As the Bruins make a final push to what would be their first NCAA tournament bid in four years, Afflalo said he hopes to be more of a scoring force -- starting tonight against USC at Pauley Pavilion.
"I would love to contribute more offensively," said Afflalo, who averaged 23 points last season at Compton Centennial High. "At times I wonder where my shots should come from, but that's my problem. I need to get more relaxed.
"In high school I knew the ball was coming to me, but you get to this level and there are other guys just as talented. But I am a scorer, and I am the shooting guard."
Afflalo said that he was used to taking 15 to 20 shots a game and that it is harder for him to get into a rhythm when he's attempting only seven or eight.
Senior Dijon Thompson, who averages about 13 shots, will be gone next year, and Afflalo is the top candidate to get many of those extra attempts.
"I'm not going out there just to hunt my shots, just get mine up," Afflalo said. "I just need to get more used to our offense."
USC's Gabe Pruitt says tonight's game should decide at least one Pac-10 award -- for freshman of the year.
The award is voted on by coaches, and the Trojans have two strong candidates -- Nick Young is the other -- going against UCLA's Jordan Farmar.
"At the beginning of the year, [the Bruin freshmen] came in and they were supposed to be the ones," Young said Wednesday. "Me and Gabe have been proving ourselves more.
"I'd say all three of us are deserving of it."
If the voting is as tight as the scoring is among them, it'll be a close call.
In Pac-10 play, Farmar and Young each have 209 points, a 13.9 average. Pruitt has 207 points and a 13.8 average.
The rest of their conference lines: Farmar is averaging 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 4.0 turnovers in 35.1 minutes while shooting 41.5% -- 34.5% from three-point territory.
Pruitt is averaging 2.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.7 turnovers in 30.6 minutes and is shooting 48.6% -- 49.4% from three-point territory. Young is averaging 4.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.5 turnovers in 31 minutes, shooting 45.8% -- 31.5% from three-point territory.
In the schools' first meeting of the season, a 72-69 UCLA victory, Young and Pruitt outscored the Bruins' more-ballyhooed quartet of freshman -- Farmar, Afflalo, Lorenzo Mata and Josh Shipp, 41-37.
When UCLA came back from a 43-25 halftime deficit against USC at the Sports Arena, Mata made a substantial contribution -- eight points, four rebounds and two blocked shots in 13 minutes. But Mata hurt his chest in practice last week, and X-rays Monday indicated he has a broken sternum. It is doubtful that he will play tonight. Mata sat out practice Tuesday and Wednesday.
The start of UCLA's final regular-season game against Oregon, March 5 at Pauley Pavilion, has been set for 5 p.m. The game will be televised by FSN West.... UCLA leads the season-long Lexus Gauntlet all-sports competition with USC by 15 points. A victory tonight is worth five points.
USC at UCLA, 7:30, FSNW2
Site -- Pauley Pavilion.
Radio -- KLAC (690), KMPC (1540), KSPA (1510).
Records -- USC 11-15 overall, 4-11 in Pacific 10 Conference; UCLA 14-9, 8-7.
Update -- UCLA is going for its first season sweep of USC in four years. In perhaps their most dramatic victory of the season, the Bruins came back from an 18-point halftime deficit to beat the Trojans at the Sports Arena last month when Dijon Thompson scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half. Despite being able to beat only two Pacific-10 Conference teams -- Cal and Arizona State -- last-place USC still has a chance to finish among the top eight teams and qualify for the conference tournament. UCLA Coach Ben Howland singled out the confident shooting of freshman guard Gabe Pruitt and strong inside play from senior Jeff McMillan as two things that concern him. It could be argued the Trojans had a better trip than UCLA last weekend. Both local schools easily handled Cal, but the Trojans fought Stanford to the end before losing, 71-62. UCLA didn't press the Cardinal after the midway point of the first half.
Tickets -- (310) 825-2946.