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COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Villanova can see Big East in the Bruins

Wildcats say they are impressed by UCLA's intensity on defense and its mental toughness.

March 21, 2009|David Wharton

PHILADELPHIA — Something about watching UCLA on videotape impressed the Villanova players.

"I mean, their defense is just amazing," guard Scottie Reynolds said. "They like to get up in you and create havoc."

Forward Dante Cunningham saw it too.

"They battle," he said.

That toughness makes the Wildcats think of UCLA -- which they face in the second round of the NCAA tournament this morning at the Wachovia Center -- as another Big East Conference team.

"Not just physical," Villanova Coach Jay Wright said, "but mentally tough."

The analogy makes sense, given that UCLA Coach Ben Howland came from Pittsburgh, intent on bringing a more intense, defense-minded style to Westwood.

His sixth-seeded team will probably need those attributes, and more, to upset third-seeded Villanova.

Much has been made of the Wildcats playing, in effect, a home game. Their campus is near downtown Philadelphia and they played several times at the Wachovia Center this season. But there are other reasons for UCLA to be concerned.

"They're a really, really good guard-oriented team," Howland said. "They play four guards around Cunningham."

The 6-8 forward leads his team in scoring at 16.3 points a game, followed by Reynolds at 15.3 and another guard, Corey Fisher, coming off the bench to add 10.9.

The Wildcats use their small, athletic lineup by setting screens all over the floor and clearing out to let ballhandlers create opportunities off the dribble.

In the first case, the Bruins will need to hedge or switch to deal with those screens. As for one-on-one situations, Howland will no doubt emphasize one of his favorite principles.

Stay in front of your man.

"They play small so we might play small too," swingman Josh Shipp said of a potential lineup maneuver. "The main thing is, you've got to find a way to defend those guys."

Transition is another concern. Villanova gets up and down the court, though Shipp noted that the Wildcats sometimes send four players to the glass, leaving themselves open to fastbreaks in the other direction.

"We might be able to exploit that," he said.

A physical, up-and-down game will put more pressure on a UCLA team that has been not as good on defense, maybe a little better offensively, than in previous seasons.

It will also test point guard Darren Collison, who said he still wasn't 100% recovered from a bruised tailbone.

In the first round against Virginia Commonwealth, Collison's foul troubles forced Jrue Holiday to play the point -- his natural position -- and the freshman responded well, particularly when it came to driving the lane.

"It felt good because it's what I've been doing all my life," he said. "When I have the ball in my hands, I can take my guy one-on-one and break him down."

Look for Howland to rely more on freshman guards Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee, who got limited playing time in a one-point victory over VCU. He might need every healthy body he can get.

"The Big East mentality of playing defense first, and that's what wins for you, doing a good job trying to take away the other team's ability to score easy in transition, fight for rebounds -- that's going to be key," Howland said.

That's what Villanova expects after studying the tape. And that sounds just fine with the UCLA players.

"Well, that Big East matchup, that's all it is," Collison said. "Just winning ugly."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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