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A little less Love, Mayo could go a long way for these teams

January 19, 2008|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Lest college basketball fans think that no one besides Kevin Love or O.J. Mayo is going to matter today when fourth-ranked UCLA plays host to USC at Pauley Pavilion, consider these statistics:

In the two games in which Mayo has scored 30 or more points, USC lost.

When Love has taken five or fewer shots, UCLA won.

Contrary to the beliefs of those who plan Sports Illustrated cover shots or decide which games to televise nationally, the success of the freshman phenoms' teams does not hinge strictly on their performances.

And they are among the first to say so.

"We all got scholarships here to play basketball," Mayo said.

While Love leads UCLA in scoring and rebounding, others have helped steer the Bruins to a 16-1 start in which they are one of only two unbeaten teams in Pacific 10 Conference play.

Junior forward Josh Shipp is a versatile scorer who can get to the basket or spot up for three-pointers. Junior guard Darren Collison is the ultimate playmaker, often zipping perfect passes to teammates but rarely turning the ball over. And sophomore guard Russell Westbrook leads the conference in assists even though he now comes off the bench.

"For us it's not Love versus Mayo," Shipp said. "For us it's a total team game."

USC has played its best when Mayo hasn't led the Trojans in scoring. In victories over Southern Illinois, Oklahoma and Washington, USC relied on the above-the-rim athleticism of freshman forward Davon Jefferson, the scoring of sophomore guard Dwight Lewis and the toughness of sophomore forward Taj Gibson in addition to the all-around prowess of Mayo.

And so the Trojans realize that a victory over the heavily favored Bruins will require a collective effort, not merely a superlative one from their leading scorer.

"People want it to be between O.J. and Love," Gibson said, "but both teams know that it's going to come down to who wants it more, and it's going to take five [players] to win this game."

Love acknowledged that the buzz surrounding the rivalry might have faded a bit in the wake of USC's 1-3 conference start, but the Trojans view today's game as a potentially pivotal moment.

"There's a sense of urgency that we need to get back on track," Mayo said.

The rivalry between Love and Mayo dates to eighth grade, when their club teams met in a tournament title game at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Mayo's team won but Love had a big scoring outburst in the second half that resonated with his rival.

"We became friends because we respect each other," Love said.

They continued to meet on the travel team circuit in high school and in numerous all-star games and summer camps. Last year, they finally became teammates for a U.S. team that defeated a roster of international players in April at the Nike Hoop Summit in Memphis, Tenn.

"We had a squad," Mayo said. "We could take on the Spurs."

This fall, they converged in West L.A. for a magazine photo shoot in which the 6-foot-10 Love posted up the 6-5 Mayo.

"Offensive foul," Mayo joked earlier this week.

Mayo's smile faded when he talked about the challenges Love poses as a dominant rebounder, effective outlet passer and brute who puts "defenders at mercy by shooting over either shoulder."

Love also expressed worries about stopping Mayo, who averages 19.9 points to rank second in the Pac-10 behind California's Ryan Anderson.

"We have to keep him out of the lane," Love said. "He's going to get his shots up regardless, but we need to make sure we have a hand in his face, make it as hard as possible to shoot the ball and don't give him any easy looks."

Happily for both Love and Mayo, they won't have to guard each other because one is a center and the other a guard.

You might not get that impression today listening to CBS analyst Billy Packer, who figures to incessantly utter the names "Love" and "Mayo." But Mayo said the names on the front of the jerseys would be the ones that count.

Mayo's coach, Tim Floyd, feels the same way.

"The top two high school players in the country playing against each other probably hasn't happened before in our city, and I think that leads to the increased anticipation of fans," Floyd said. "But I think as players and coaches we know that it comes down to team versus team."

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TODAY

USC at UCLA, 12:30 p.m., Channel 2

Site -- Pauley Pavilion.

Radio -- 710, 570.

Records -- USC 10-6 overall, 1-3 in Pac-10; UCLA 16-1, 4-0.

Update -- USC sophomore guard Daniel Hackett said "it's going to take a perfect game, almost" for the Trojans to defeat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion for the first time since 2004. USC has collected fewer rebounds than its opponent in all four conference games and has committed more turnovers in three. Floyd wants his team to repeatedly get to the free-throw line and said UCLA's physical style of defense "gives you an opportunity to get to the line if you're smart with it." Lewis injured his thumb in practice Friday but was expected to play for USC.

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Times staff writer Diane Pucin contributed to this report.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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NO. 4 UCLA VS. USC

Today at Pauley Pavilion, 12:30 p.m., Channel 2

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