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UCLA-USC REPORT

Gibson playing to rave reviews

January 13, 2007|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

His teammates have compared him to Tim Duncan and called him "a walking double-double." An NBA executive has labeled him the best pro prospect on his team right now.

No praise seems overstated considering the way Taj Gibson has begun his college career, establishing himself as one of the best freshmen in USC history halfway through his first season.

The 6-foot-9 forward's 65.7% shooting from the field puts him on pace to set a USC freshman record, and his 9.3 rebounding average ranks behind only Cliff Robinson's 9.6 in 1978 among Trojans freshmen.

Gibson also ranks fifth among USC freshmen with 32 blocks, sixth with 158 rebounds and eighth with 78 free throws.

"It's like having Shaq," junior swingman Nick Young said. "It's just great having someone you can depend on. We have a lot of confidence in him to make shots."

Gibson is averaging 13.6 points and has eight double-doubles to lead the Pacific 10 Conference.

UCLA Coach Ben Howland says Gibson is in the running for conference freshman-of-the-year honors with the more heralded Spencer Hawes of Washington and Chase Budinger of Arizona.

"When you compare him to Hawes and Budinger," Howland said, "he's right there."

Gibson, who at 21 is USC's fourth-oldest scholarship player, said he had to spend several extra years getting his high school grades in order to qualify academically for college.

"Actually, I thought I had no chance of making it to college, so I've come a long way," he said. "I'm happy to be in college right now.

"I don't think of myself as a freshman. I think of myself as a senior, one of the older guys who has to teach and be a leader for all of my teammates."

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UCLA knows it's probably coming, even though USC doesn't use it much and Trojans Coach Tim Floyd says it hasn't been emphasized in practice.

It's the zone defense, which Bruins sophomore guard Darren Collison said UCLA struggled against last Saturday during a 68-66 loss to Oregon.

"We had problems with their zone and didn't do a good job of attacking it," Collison said.

USC used a zone for stretches in its 84-82 victory over Oregon on Jan. 4, though Floyd called it "the most miserable 10 minutes of this year" and Young said he hoped the Trojans wouldn't utilize a zone again because Oregon guard Aaron Brooks scorched them for 31 points.

Howland had a different take on the success of USC's zone.

"It was a shrewd move against Oregon because it worked out for them," he said. "I wish I had done something different."

Howland anticipates USC will use a similar defensive scheme at times today at the Galen Center.

"I expect they'll play some zone," he said. "We've been preparing for it."

*

UCLA sophomore Michael Roll is expected to make his first start of the season today in place of injured swingman Josh Shipp and could easily eclipse his season high of 22 minutes in the Bruins' blowout victory over Washington on Dec. 31.

"It would be nice if he does come out with a big game," Collison said, "but at the same time we have other players off the bench who could have a big game as well."

Howland said he expected Roll to capably handle the added workload. Last season, when he played a career-high 34 minutes against Washington at Pauley Pavilion, Roll scored a career-high 17 points.

"This is not a big deal for Mike," Howland said. "It's a great opportunity."

*

TODAY

UCLA at USC, 11:30 a.m.,

FSN Prime Ticket

Site -- Galen Center.

Radio -- 710, 570.

Records -- UCLA 14-1 overall, 3-1 Pacific 10; USC 13-4, 3-1.

Update -- Although UCLA leads the all-time series, 122-99, USC has won six of the last 10 meetings and five of the last seven at home. The Trojans have defeated three ranked teams, the most since they beat the same number during the 2002-03 season. The last time USC defeated more ranked opponents was the 2001-02 season, when it defeated six.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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