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UCLA BASKETBALL FYI

Howland has list for improvement

December 11, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

Defense and taking care of the ball rank fairly high on Ben Howland's list of priorities, and his team has shown room for improvement in both of those areas through the first month of the season.

Heading into a game against DePaul in the John R. Wooden Classic at the Honda Center on Saturday, 16th-ranked UCLA is allowing opponents to shoot almost 44% from the field and averaging more than 15 turnovers a game.

Howland would like to see that field-goal percentage closer to 40 and said the cure is to keep working hard in practice until his players learn to "pressure the ball but stay in front of it."

The turnover rate involves one of Howland's favorite subjects -- the jump-stop. In other words, he wants his players to fight the common habit of leaving their feet when they pass.

The veterans know this all too well, but the team's freshmen are still learning. And though they might execute the jump stop in practice, they sometimes forget in games.

"Games are a little different," junior swingman Michael Roll said. "Everybody gets excited."

Big deal

Speaking to reporters at his weekly news conference, Howland talked about the progress of his freshmen big men, J'mison Morgan and Drew Gordon.

The 6-foot-10 Morgan is averaging seven minutes a game and will probably remain at that mark until he gets in shape to move around the court defensively.

Howland said it's a matter of "being able to get out away from the basket and hedge on those screens and get back to his man . . . it's all new for him and not easy."

Gordon was praised for his performance against Cal State Northridge on Sunday. The 6-8 forward is averaging a team-best 0.3 rebounds a minute.

Good memories

The last time UCLA met DePaul on a neutral court was in the second round of the 1980 NCAA tournament. The Blue Demons were ranked No. 1 in the country but fell to unranked UCLA, 77-71.

Mark Aguirre was the star for DePaul and the venerable Ray Meyer was coach. The Bruins, under coach Larry Brown, made 10 straight free throws in the final 1 minute 38 seconds to seal the victory.

UCLA reached the championship game that season, losing to Louisville.

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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