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UCLA gets more from center Brendan Lane as J’mison Morgan plays less

Basketball Coach Ben Howland is impressed with Lane’s production and how hard the freshman tries. Sophomore center Morgan’s struggles include a suspension.

March 04, 2010|By Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Sometimes, actions speak louder than words.

Other times, words do just fine.

Center J'mison Morgan made only a two-minute appearance in UCLA's loss to Oregon on Saturday, even though the Bruins basketball team is woefully short on big players.

Asked why, Coach Ben Howland was blunt: "Brendan Lane was back in the lineup and he gave us, uh, more."

Morgan, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound sophomore, was considered a steal for UCLA in 2008 when he was released from a scholarship commitment to Louisiana State after a coaching change. Scout.com ranked him as the fourth-best high school center in the nation coming out of state champion Dallas South Oak High.

But in his second season with the Bruins, Morgan is averaging less than two points and two rebounds in a little more than eight minutes a game, and it got worse for him Wednesday when UCLA announced that he would not accompany the team on its flight or play Thursday night at Arizona because of "a violation of team rules." A UCLA sports information official said Morgan would rejoin the team in Tempe for Saturday's Arizona State game.

Lane, a 6-9, 210-pound freshman, had taken most of Morgan's playing time anyway. The reason: production, plain and simple.

For example, while Morgan's box score line showed one turnover in his two minutes against Oregon, Lane made all four of his shots, finishing with eight points and five rebounds in 23 minutes on a sprained left ankle.

"Brendan, in retrospect, should have played more minutes" this season, Howland said this week. "He did a great job on a sprained ankle. He tries hard. He makes mistakes, but when the mistakes are from trying hard, you can't fault the kid."

No excuses are made for Morgan, who has lost 30 pounds since arriving at UCLA overweight at 270.

Asked why he was out of shape, Morgan said, "We were mostly a zone team in high school and they'd wait for me. I'd take my time and the team would slow it down and wait for me and we'd go from there." He also said he had corrective knee surgery when he was in eighth grade.

Said Howland: "We knew there were some issues, but we didn't know the extent."

Morgan's best chance at having an effect this season came two weeks ago, when forward James Keefe opted for shoulder surgery and forward Reeves Nelson suffered a slightly torn retina after a fall against Washington State.

Morgan played a season-high 21 minutes against Washington State, contributing three blocked shots and three assists.

It was, Morgan said last week, "a big opportunity to prove I can help the team, in the coaches' minds. It's not going to get any worse than this. It can only go up from this point. I can only progress."

Instead, there's been a Lane change. Having arrived at UCLA from Rocklin (Calif.) High with his own weight issues — he was a slight and not very sturdy 205 pounds — Lane played only 37 minutes in the Bruins' first 11 Pacific 10 Conference games. Lately, however, he has surged.

During a blowout loss to Washington on Feb. 20, Lane made five of six shots, scoring 11 points in 18 minutes. After missing the Oregon State game because of the sprained ankle he sustained in a practice, he was equally effective against Oregon.

There seems little doubt UCLA will need all Lane can give during this final regular-season trip to Arizona and Arizona State. Even before Morgan's suspension, the Bruins (13-15) were short in the front court as they try to avoid their third losing season since 1947-48. Keefe had shoulder surgery Wednesday, the same day Nelson was cleared to play again. Also, Nikola Dragovic has shoulder and ankle injuries, and even when he's healthy the 6-9 senior is not a dominant inside player.

So Lane is needed, though he can also see beyond this week's games.

"This has definitely made my future look a lot better," Lane said. "I know now that I can step in and contribute. That is going to make me work even harder during the off-season. I know what I need to focus on to get better. Now I can see where I fit with this team."

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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