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UCLA BASKETBALL

Small, quick lineup offers benefits

It comes in handy, especially against the pressure defense the Bruins expect to see against Arizona tonight.

January 15, 2009|David Wharton

With a smaller and quicker lineup this season, UCLA has been forced to work harder at rebounding, but there is a flip side to this predicament.

The ninth-ranked Bruins said they expect to see a fair amount of pressure defense, probably in the form of a three-quarter-court press, when Arizona visits Pauley Pavilion tonight.

That's where small and quick come in handy.

"We're not worried," senior swingman Josh Shipp said. "I mean, we have good ball handlers."

The primary responsibility falls on point guard Darren Collison, but he gets help from Shipp, Michael Roll, Jrue Holiday and even bigger players such as Nikola Dragovic.

"If one person is being pressured, we can throw it to really anybody else on the court," Roll said. "It's not a problem for any other person to take it up or handle the pressure themselves."

The Bruins' agility might also play a role when Arizona has the basketball.

Though the Wildcats have changed since the retirement of long-time coach Lute Olson, they still run a lot of motion offense, UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.

"They have good players," Shipp said. "They're athletic."

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Little big man

On the subject of quickness versus size, Howland talked more about starting Dragovic over the bulkier James Keefe against USC in terms of an overall shift he sees in the college game.

"A power forward, you used to think of that guy as a post-up guy," he said. "Now it's more of a guard-oriented position."

In addition to interior defense and rebounding, bigger players are being asked to handle the ball, move without the ball and shoot from greater range.

"You see a lot of guys who play the four in college and end up playing threes in the pros," he said. "They're that skilled, that good."

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Quick study

With the Pacific 10 Conference schedule in full swing, the Bruins are playing twice a week, which leaves considerably less time for practice.

This week, they had only two full workouts -- Tuesday and Wednesday -- to prepare for matchups against Arizona and Arizona State. The day between games will be limited because Howland wants his players to rest.

"We don't practice on Fridays," he said. "I mean, we'll come in and do some shooting and walk through our stuff."

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Good night

Another thing the Bruins do on Fridays during the conference season is spend the night in a hotel, even when the team is playing at Pauley Pavilion the next day.

Critics of big-time college sports have questioned the need for home-game hotel stays. They suggest the money would be better spent on non-revenue sports that often go wanting.

Collison said he understands why Howland might want to keep him and his teammates under watch on a weekend night before playing.

"He's not trying to cage us in but he doesn't want us to get in any trouble," the senior said. "He's seen plenty of times where kids go out and do wild things."

The time together has other benefits, players said.

"The main thing is to stay focused," Shipp said. "We know we have a job to do the next day."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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