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Love prepares to clash with titans

Bruins center is part of Pac-10's wealth of talented big men. His first test: Stanford's 7-foot Lopez twins.

January 03, 2008|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

UCLA center Kevin Love and point guard Darren Collison participated at a camp in New Orleans last summer along with Stanford's 7-foot twins, Brook and Robin Lopez.

It was an opportunity Love appreciated and one he didn't waste: Now he has a scouting report on exactly what it will be like for him tonight when the fifth-ranked, reigning two-time Pacific 10 Conference champion Bruins (12-1) open conference play against 24th-ranked Stanford (11-1) at Maples Pavilion.

"They're big," Love said. "Man, they are big boys. Once you get past the first pump fake and get by one of them you're like, 'Man, I thought I pump faked you' because there's another one in your way.

"They both play hard-nosed. One of them [Brook] is very skilled and can do a lot of stuff in the low post. The other one [Robin] is a banger and is very tough."

Love will have to get used to it. All around the Pac-10 this season there are big players who will challenge him. At 6-foot-10, Love might be the most highly regarded freshman post player in the conference, but UCLA Coach Ben Howland says that there might be as many as a dozen centers and power forwards who will someday play in the NBA.

This week during UCLA's first conference trip -- the Bruins play at California on Saturday -- Love will be tested by four of the best.

After the Lopez twins comes a Cal front line anchored by 6-11 center DeVon Hardin and 6-10 forward Ryan Anderson.

Anderson leads the Pac-10 in scoring with a 22.2-point average and Hardin is the circuit's fourth-leading rebounder at 9.9 a game. Love is third at 10.3 a game.

Former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, who works for the Cardinal athletic program and still keeps a close eye on college basketball, says the conference's roster of big men might be the best in the country.

"When you look around the league it is just very impressive," he said.

Besides Love, the Lopez twins, Hardin and Anderson, Montgomery listed USC center Taj Gibson; Washington power forward Jon Brockman, whose 11.0 rebounds average leads the conference; the Washington State pair of 6-10, 270-pound junior center Aron Baynes and 6-10 senior forward Robbie Cowgill; Oregon forward Maarty Leunen; Arizona State's 6-9 Jeff Pendergraph, a forward, and 6-10 center Eric Boateng; Arizona's 6-10 sophomore Jordan Hill; and Oregon State's 6-11 junior C.J. Giles, a Kansas transfer, as being capable of playing professionally in Europe if not the NBA.

And then the former college and NBA coach tripped over his words and laughed as he said, "I love Love." It has been enlightening, Montgomery said, to see the skilled rookie adjust to college.

"I love him because he's fundamentally sound," Montgomery said. "He knows how to play the game and he's a great competitor."

That said, Montgomery is eagerly anticipating the chance to see Love contend with the Lopez twins.

"It's going to be interesting," Montgomery said. "Kevin's not seen guys this size. They're hard to score inside on, and if you go inside they'll challenge you because the two of them are great shot blockers."

Collison said he learned about Love's toughness when he watched Love and Brook Lopez play against each other last summer.

"What I liked is that from the first jump ball Kevin was real competitive and he didn't back off," UCLA's point guard said. "Physically he got out and went after Brook. Nothing fazed him, and it was some rough play."

Love said that one reason he came to UCLA was to play against this group of conference big men.

"When I looked around the country there was not a better group, and I absolutely want to test myself against these guys," Love said. "These are the kinds of guys who are going to make me better."

Montgomery said it's not only the individual talent of the players that is impressive, it is how they so well fit into each of their different systems. "Baynes, for example, may not be the most gifted athletically," he said, "but he's at Washington State, which is very disciplined and takes advantage of his ability to bang around."

While not all will be NBA stars, Montgomery said many of the Pac-10's post players will be "roster" guys.

"A kid like Brockman, who is tough, who plays hard every night, he's going to be on an NBA team like Mark Madsen," Montgomery said. "I don't think anybody thought Madsen would have 10 years in the league. But he does."

Love is not UCLA's only inside presence. Lorenzo Mata-Real, a 6-10 senior, started last season. And junior Alfred Aboya, who at 6-8 is a relatively small power forward in the Pac-10, is another reason Love should be ready to face Brook and Robin Lopez tonight, according to Bruins forward Josh Shipp.

"No one in the league will beat on Kevin any more than Alfred does in practice every day," Shipp said. "Hardly anyone pays attention to Alfred and yet he plays incredible defense every day.

"That shows how good the big men in this conference are."

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