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Howland begging for scraps

Bruins want to run, but they are still their coach's team, so defense and rebounds must come first.

November 12, 2008|David Wharton | Wharton is a Times staff writer.

The hands move. The feet shuffle ever so slightly.

Darren Collison has trouble standing still when he talks about basketball season, about a UCLA team stocked with backcourt talent.

Players who can run.

"We've just got to go," Collison says. "We can't really think about slowing it down."

Sounds like an intriguing shift in ethos from the gritty, blue-collar Bruins that fans have come to know in the Ben Howland era. But the coach steps in with a sobering reminder.

Running the floor can be tough without defense and rebounding.

"We need to be a scrappy team," Howland says.

And that's the challenge facing the fourth-ranked Bruins, who open tonight against Prairie View A&M in the first round of the 2K Sports Classic tournament at Pauley Pavilion.

On one hand, they look to be a perimeter-oriented squad, capable of pushing the ball in transition. Collison is joined by veteran swingman Josh Shipp and highly touted freshmen guards Jrue Holiday, Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee.

On the other hand, this is a team that has lost its top four rebounders and Kevin Love's considerable defensive presence inside.

And it is a Howland team.

In a previous incarnation, he rebuilt Northern Arizona as a top-shooting team. But then came a stint at Pittsburgh and, by the time he arrived in Westwood, Howland had adopted a Big East attitude.

Hard work. Low scores.

Blue-collar ethic has carried UCLA to three consecutive Final Four appearances. Asked if the 2008-09 Bruins will undergo a style makeover, Howland answered firmly in the negative.

Until players take care of the dirty work, he said, "everything is wishful thinking."

No Bruin is likely to replace Love's 10.6 rebounds a game last season. Instead, the team will need a coordinated effort, everyone pitching in.

It's a message the coach drives home with physical rebounding drills.

"Everyone's just getting knocked around," forward James Keefe said.

Keefe has been the team's best rebounder in practice. He should get help from Drew Gordon and J'mison Morgan, the two big men in UCLA's top-ranked recruiting class, who are expected to contribute immediately.

There is also senior center Alfred Aboya -- if he can overcome a tendency for early foul trouble.

"I don't know how else to say it, that has got to stop," Collison said. "We need Alfred out there."

The Cameroon native averaged only 2.2 rebounds last season but is adept at blocking out, which fits into Howland's all-for-one concept. As Keefe explained, when Aboya clears his man, "the little guy comes running in there and grabs the board. Definitely a team effort."

Along those lines, Howland wants to see Collison improve his rebounding average to 4.0 a game. The 6-3 Holiday, adept at so many areas of the game, will be asked to crash the offensive boards.

As for the other half of the equation, UCLA figures to use its quickness in familiar ways, pressuring opponents with lots of man-to-man, half-court traps and doubling the ball in the post.

"Playing defense -- that's the main thing," said Holiday who, on top of everything else, appears to be a quick study. "Blocking my man and helping my teammates."

That sounds more like the kind of basketball Howland preaches. In a concession to the offensive side of the game, the coach points out that defensive stops lead to fastbreak opportunities.

Maybe that's why Collison sounds so energetic.

Along with all that rebounding work in practice, the senior guard said his team has worked on pushing the ball upcourt in transition.

With this season's backcourt group, he said, "we have so many steals, so many fastbreaks."

The Bruins scored 36 points off the break during the two exhibitions. Collison acknowledges that the opposition -- Cal Baptist and Biola -- wasn't exactly Pacific 10 Conference caliber. Still . . .

"We've got quickness," he said. "I already love the way we're playing."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

UCLA ROSTER

Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, 6-2, Jr., G: Former walk-on provided limited but important minutes when team was hit by injuries last season. He's now on scholarship.

Alfred Aboya, 6-9, Sr., C-F: The Bruins lost their top four rebounders, which means they need Aboya inside. The Cameroon native must cure a penchant for early foul trouble.

Jerime Anderson, 6-1, Fr., G: Top high school point guard had a shot at starting until Collison passed on the NBA. Will compete for backup time. Through two exhibitions, he has seven assists and no turnovers.

Blake Arnet, 6-0, Fr., G: Led Mater Dei to consecutive state titles. Joins the team as a walk-on.

Darren Collison, 6-0, Sr., G: The top returning scorer from last season, but the Bruins need him to run the offense and otherwise take control of a team filled with youngsters.

Matt DeMarcus, 6-3, Fr., G: Joins the team as a walk-on from Union High in the Santa Ynez Valley.

James Diefenbach, 6-8, Sr., F-C: Honor roll student spent the last three years on the UCLA volleyball team.

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