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UCLA BASKETBALL FYI

UCLA tries to break Huskies' trend

The Bruins haven't won in Seattle over the last four seasons. The winner of Saturday's matchup will have sole possession of first place in the Pacific 10 Conference.

January 24, 2009|David Wharton

SEATTLE — Forget the coaching adage about treating every opponent the same. That's not how Washington built a home winning streak against UCLA.

Every time the Bruins have ventured into Bank of America Arena over the last four seasons, they have come away losers.

"You've got to be excited for every game, but . . . ," Washington forward Jon Brockman said. "UCLA has been such a high-profile team, it's been a game our guys have gotten really amped up for."

Expect more of the same when the 13th-ranked Bruins visit the Huskies' court this afternoon, the winner claiming sole possession of first place in the Pacific 10 Conference.

"That's what they feed off," UCLA guard Darren Collison said. "They know it's hard for us to get a win there, so that's what gets them going."

No other Pac-10 team can claim this sort of edge since the Bruins began making the Final Four an annual habit. The Huskies' northern domination is such that no one on the UCLA roster knows what it feels like to win in Seattle.

Last season, Washington pestered Collison and Kevin Love into subpar performances while Brockman pulled down 17 rebounds. In one memorable play, the Huskies' Tim Morris averted a five-second violation by bouncing the ball out of bounds off UCLA center Alfred Aboya's face.

"I'm aware that I've never won there, and I want to win so bad," Aboya said.

There were similar disappointments in previous seasons, with Collison struggling and Brockman playing well.

Asked about his team's struggles in Seattle, UCLA Coach Ben Howland placed Bank of America Arena alongside Oregon's McArthur Court as tough road venues. Architecture plays a role.

"The roof is low, and it gets really loud," he said. "That's a really great home-court advantage."

And then there are the athletes.

Start with the 6-foot-7, 255-pound Brockman, a senior who scores 15.1 points a game and ranks among the nation's best rebounders with an average of 10.8.

"He's an absolute animal on the glass," Howland said. "He's just so strong and relentless."

Justin Dentmon and Quincy Pondexter are scoring in double figures, and Matt Bryan-Amaning provides a lift off the bench. But perhaps the biggest difference from last season's 16-17 Washington team is the addition of guard Isaiah Thomas, the Pac-10's top freshman in scoring and assists.

With this blend of veterans and a newcomer, the Huskies have matured in recent weeks, Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar said.

"We're a much more mentally tough team than we have been," he said. "We're a better defensive team than we've been."

So what will it take for UCLA to end its losing streak here?

With Washington's up-tempo offense and all-out assault on the glass, the Bruins will need to control the tempo. That means trying to stay close in the rebound category.

Howland said that Jrue Holiday and Josh Shipp, both of whom play on the wing, must shoulder a larger part of the workload.

"All five guys are going to have to rebound," he said.

And the Bruins will have to weather the noise. After suffering through dreary seasons with the Seahawks and the Mariners -- and losing the SuperSonics to another city -- Seattle has rallied around the Huskies.

Fans would like nothing better than to see their team extend the streak and claim the conference lead.

"You can feel it," Brockman said. "This city's been hungry for a sports team to have success."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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