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UCLA BASKETBALL

Adding It All Up

October 17, 2008|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

UCLA begins its quest to qualify for a fourth consecutive Final Four when practice officially begins tonight at 8.

The Bruins will play Cal Baptist in their first exhibition, Nov. 3 at Pauley Pavilion, and also open the season at home, on Nov. 12, against Prairie View in the first round of the 2K Sports Classic.

Here's a look at what's up, down, the same and different from a year ago:

Love out, BoBo in

Kevin Love, last season's Pacific 10 Conference player of the year and an All-American, is now with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves. Yet point guard Darren Collison says it will be no different throwing the ball into senior Alfred Aboya or freshmen Drew Gordon and J'mison "BoBo" Morgan than it was to Love. Of course, not one of those players is as skilled on offense as Love, or as good of a post passer. Morgan, 6 feet 10, 248 pounds, from Dallas, cheerfully admitted he is two weeks from being in peak physical shape, and that easygoing approach to fitness will not earn him any early breaks from Coach Ben Howland.

The Bruins lost their top four rebounders from last season. With Aboya projected as the starter at center, it will be mandatory that Morgan and Gordon, who was a top shot putter and discus thrower in high school, be aggressive rebounders.

Gordon was physically fragile last year, battling through major injuries to his foot, knee and hand, but he says he is in perfect shape now.

Changing of the . . . forward?

After almost getting redshirted last season because of shoulder surgery, junior James Keefe will be replacing rebounding demon Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who left early for the NBA.

Keefe doesn't yet have Mbah a Moute's relentless rebounding instincts or prowess on defense, but he is more gifted on offense, with a reliable jump shot and a knack for finding the ball under the basket. He had his first career double-double -- 18 points, 12 rebounds -- against Western Kentucky and that kind of upward learning curve would go a long way to pushing the Bruins to a fourth straight Pac-10 title.

The veterans

Aboya, point guard Collison and forward Josh Shipp, all seniors, are being called out by Howland to become leaders. Collison and Shipp flirted with leaving school early for pro ball and Aboya considered skipping his final season of eligibility to concentrate on graduate school.

Collison said Wednesday he had "one foot in the draft and one foot in school" last spring, but that it was his "loyalty" and "desire to bring UCLA a national championship" that brought both feet back to Westwood.

Collison has gained about 10 pounds of muscle over the summer, weight he hopes will help him to be pushed around less by bigger guards such as the ones from Memphis who overwhelmed him last season in an NCAA semifinal.

Shipp, who was working on two recently surgically repaired hips last season, was reduced to an uncertain three-point shooter.

Howland hopes a lighter Shipp can resume driving to the basket and get himself to the foul line at least six times a game.

The rookies

The recruiting class of guards Jrue Holiday, Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee and center-forwards Gordon and Morgan was ranked No. 1 nationally last year. Holiday, like Love the year before, was the Gatorade national high school player of the year and is the only rookie assured of starting. But the success of this season's team largely will be determined by whether Gordon and Morgan grow up fast and are tough enough to rebound and play defense the UCLA way.

"It's hard to learn those defensive hedges," Morgan said.

But learn he must. And quickly.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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