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Bruins look at Pac-10 opener as fresh start

Team is told by Coach Ben Howland to forget preseason struggles.

December 31, 2009|By David Wharton
  • Nikola Dragovic, center, and UCLA plan to forget their early woes as they head into their Pacific-10 schedule.
Nikola Dragovic, center, and UCLA plan to forget their early woes as they… (Gus Ruelas / Associated…)

The start of the Pacific 10 Conference season means one thing to a UCLA basketball team that has struggled through its first dozen games.


Forgetting about the missed shots and defensive breakdowns. Forgetting about seven losses against only five wins.

"Coach told us we've got to start 0-0 right now," forward Nikola Dragovic said. "We have a chance to just start from the beginning. Start a whole new season."

The Pac-10 opener comes against Arizona State at Pauley Pavilion this afternoon.

The Sun Devils no longer have James Harden or Jeff Pendergraph -- both are in the NBA -- but UCLA Coach Ben Howland still sees a strong resemblance to the conference rival that swept his Bruins last season.

Start with senior Derek Glasser, averaging 11.8 points and 5.7 assists.

"He's a difficult matchup because he's so smart," Howland said. "He makes very good decisions as a point guard and really reads defenses well."

Arizona State likes to set screens for Glasser, then roll or slip the screen for a quick pass. Glasser has responded with 74 assists against 27 turnovers.

When he does make the pass, he can look to scorers in swingman Rihards Kuksiks and center Eric Boateng, averaging 11.8 and 8.3 points, respectively.

"They really shoot the ball well from all perimeter positions," Howland said. "That makes it difficult to defend them because they really stretch you out."

Hoping for a repeat

While Dragovic continues to struggle offensively, making only 31% of his shots, Howland cites history as an argument for sticking with the senior.

Last season, Dragovic had a similar cold stretch during the nonconference schedule, then heated up when Pac-10 games came around.

After playing only 13 minutes in the 2008-09 opener at Oregon State, he scored in double figures in four of the next five games.

Dragovic is ready for a similar revival this winter, saying, "I'm feeling really good."

Honeycutt coming on

Another player who may be rounding into shape is freshman Tyler Honeycutt, sidelined the entire summer and half of the games this season because of injuries to his back and right leg.

"I missed four months, five months of shots," he said. "And just having the ball in my hands."

The 6-foot-7 forward still cannot lift weights, which may limit his explosiveness off the wing, but he has done plenty of endurance work and is feeling stronger.

Against Delaware State this week, he had 11 points and four rebounds in 27 minutes.

The turning point may have come when the Bruins reconvened after a short holiday to practice on Christmas night.

"That was the best I've felt since I've been here," he said. "Everybody was kind of dragging about practicing on Christmas, but I was excited."


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