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UCLA REPORT

Howland Is Big Fan of Pac-10 Tournament

March 09, 2005|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

While some Pacific-10 Conference coaches have not wholeheartedly endorsed the idea of a league tournament -- most notably Arizona's Lute Olson and former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery -- UCLA's Ben Howland is all for it.

"It's exciting," Howland said Tuesday. "It's great for the players, great for the fans. As coaches talk about, it's tough when you potentially play 21 games against your own, 18 league games in the regular season, the most of any major conference.

"But what makes the Big East tournament so exciting is because every year people know that they're going to New York City, going to the same place. It's exciting. It's electric and that's what you want to get this tournament to."

The Pac-10 is in the fourth year of a six-year agreement to hold its tournament at Staples Center. This year's tournament begins Thursday with top-seeded Arizona against eighth-seeded California at 12:20 p.m. followed by fourth-seeded UCLA against fifth-seeded Oregon State.

"You've got to commit to one place," Howland said, "whether it's here or San Francisco or wherever you're going to have it.... Having that tradition of every year we're going to that place, people can be excited about it."

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Dijon Thompson, UCLA's leading scorer, has shot 12 of 40 (30%) in the last three games. That's well below his season average of nearly 48%. "He's been taking pretty good shots," Howland said. "Dijon will be fine. We've won those three games and he hasn't been shooting that great and I imagine he will get it going. So that's the good thing."

Starting forward Josh Shipp, who suffered a badly sprained right ankle against USC nearly two weeks ago, will be held out of five-on-five practice drills for the rest of the season.

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