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Guard-heavy Texas runs into UCLA's inside game

The Longhorns aren't tall, but they are quick and can shoot well, countering the Bruins' strong post presence today.

December 02, 2007|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

Texas basketball this season is driven by its guards. D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams and Justin Mason are quick, strong and are not freshmen, which practically makes them seem like seniors.

They all are shooting better than 50% and Abrams and Augustin each shoot better than 49% from three-point range. They also are excellent ballhandlers, Longhorns Coach Rick Barnes says.

What they are not is tall. What they don't have is much of an inside game, and that could be a problem today when No. 8 Texas meets UCLA in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series at Pauley Pavilion.

The second-ranked Bruins have that inside game.

Each team is undefeated -- UCLA is 7-0; Texas is 6-0 -- and each has already defeated another nationally ranked team. The Bruins came from 13 behind while playing without point guard Darren Collison and sixth man Michael Roll to beat Michigan State, and the Longhorns ran Tennessee ragged in a 97-78 win.

That win over Tennessee was caused by the quick hands and feet of sophomore Augustin, who is 6 feet, Abrams, who is 5-11, and Mason, who is 6-2. To counter, UCLA has 6-0 Collison; 6-3 Russell Westbrook and 6-5 Josh Shipp. They, too, are quick. They, too, aren't freshmen. They can handle the ball. They don't shoot like the Longhorns' backcourt, but they aren't supposed to.

UCLA has a center, Kevin Love, who is averaging 18.1 points and 10.6 rebounds.

"When I look at UCLA," Barnes said, "I love their team because they can go a lot of different ways. We've got two guards 6 feet or smaller and they will try and exploit that."

Barnes also praised Love's good hands and solid fundamentals.

"You're talking about a guy who throws an outlet pass as well as anybody in a long, long time," the Texas coach said. "He seals off the post. He's a big-time offensive rebounder. He brings the defender's body into him when he's about to shoot.

"Things like that, he's just got a feel for."

Love at times seemed frustrated last Wednesday during UCLA's 83-60 win over George Washington when he was open in the post and didn't get a pass.

"We have to do a better job of moving him around and do a better job of sealing inside and getting it to him when he is inside," Coach Ben Howland said. "We just need to take advantage of his skill level."

The Longhorns had to remake their team after the loss of college player of the year Kevin Durant, who was the second player chosen in this year's NBA draft. The 6-9 Durant participated well in Barnes' up-tempo style but also provided a go-to presence in the post.

Texas now starts 6-7 Damion James and 6-10 Connor Atchley, who only gets 4.8 rebounds a game.

Howland has made it a goal that UCLA outrebound opponents by at least 10, and the Bruins are averaging 38.7 rebounds to 27.7 by opponents.

When this game was arranged, the glamour battle was expected to be between point guards Augustin and Collison.

Augustin is averaging 17.5 points and 7.0 assists. Collison, after sustaining a sprained knee in an exhibition game, hadn't played until Wednesday, when he scored 14 points in 26 minutes against George Washington.

Augustin and Collison were roommates at a summer point guard camp.

"What I noticed about him," Augustin said, "was that he always takes his time and looks for his other players. He's fast. He's kind of a quiet guy, but he's just a good point guard.

"He knows what to do with the ball and where his players are."

Of Augustin, Collison said, "He's not as little as he looks. He plays big and he plays smart. He's fast. He loves to score."

Said Barnes: "I would love to have a series with UCLA run forever."

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TODAY

vs. Texas, 5 p.m., FSN Prime Ticket

Radio -- 1150.

Site -- Pauley Pavilion.

Records -- UCLA 7-0, Texas 6-0.

Update -- Texas is averaging 88 points and the Longhorns have shot better than 50% in their last five games. They've also shot 50% or better from three-point range in all six games. The highest-ranked opponent Texas has beaten in a true road game in its history was fourth-ranked Memphis in January 2006.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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