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UCLA presents a tall order for opponents

With a frontcourt that features three players at least 6 feet 8 and a 305-pound center, the Bruins have a size advantage that few other college men's basketball teams can match.

November 07, 2011|By Ben Bolch
  • The rugged presence of 6-8 forward Reeves Nelson (22) and 6-10 Joshua Smith gives UCLA some experience and muscle down low this season.
The rugged presence of 6-8 forward Reeves Nelson (22) and 6-10 Joshua Smith… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

UCLA is traveling hundreds of miles this season to play home games.

It's 20 feet 4 inches that worries the Bruins' opponents.

That's the combined height of the Pacific 12 Conference's most imposing starting frontcourt, a 775-pound blend of brawn and finesse that features 6-10 and 6-8 forwards who put up three-point shots and a 6-10, 305-pound center who gobbles points and rebounds, among other things.

"To me, it's the difference between them and everybody else," Arizona Coach Sean Miller said.

Not many college teams can measure up to UCLA's starting front line of center Joshua Smith and forwards David Wear and Reeves Nelson. At 6-10 and 225 pounds, Wear will be a small forward in name only.

As if that trio didn't present big-enough problems, the Bruins' rivals will see double when Travis Wear takes the court alongside his identical twin now that the sophomores are eligible after transferring from North Carolina. Travis Wear is expected to play power forward and center — not that it will keep him from venturing outside the three-point arc for jump shots.

UCLA also has a one-man swat force in 6-10 sophomore center Anthony Stover, a veteran presence in 6-9 junior forward Brendan Lane and a versatile newcomer in 6-6 junior college transfer De'End Parker, though a shoulder injury is expected to sideline Stover for the first few weeks of a season that tips off Friday at the Sports Arena against Loyola Marymount.

That's 47 feet 3 inches and 1,668 pounds of Bruins spread among seven frontcourt players.

"We'll have to Scotch-tape three players on top of each other to match their size," Lions Coach Max Good said.

Good might actually be selling UCLA's big men a little short. The bulk of the 17th-ranked Bruins is the primary reason they have attained their first national ranking since the end of the 2008-09 season and become the media's preseason pick to win the Pac-12.

Coach Ben Howland's hope is that his team's versatile frontcourt leads to matchup problems for opponents and more rebounds than UCLA has snagged since its front line was led by Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute four years ago. Howland intends at times to use a motion offense that will spread the court while isolating one or two post players underneath the basket.

"It's free-flowing and it's spaced and there's no sets," Howland said. "You can pass and cut to the basket, you can pass and screen away, you can pass and someone can set a flare screen for you.

"There's all these things that can happen that's hard for a team to prepare for, and we have a smart team."

It may not be a particularly speedy team.

The Bruins don't possess Tyus Edney-like quickness, though there are apparently some things they can do in a blur. In an outtake for a rib company commercial, Howland said Smith could eat a whole rib in 4.8 seconds.

The sophomore center also appears ready to devour opposing defenders with an enhanced arsenal of moves, including jump hooks with each hand and a mid-range jumper.

"You'll probably see something other than just a point blank turn my shoulder and go up" toward the basket, Smith said.

Nelson also appears to have diversified his attack after mostly bulling his way through opponents last season and leading the Bruins with averages of 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds. The junior power forward has worked to improve his range after making only 19% of his three-point shots as a sophomore.

He made both three-point shots he took during UCLA's exhibition victory over Cal State San Bernardino after making four all of last season.

David Wear could be another force inside and outside the paint, posting up smaller players or roaming the perimeter for open looks. Just like his brother.

"The twins shoot the ball as well as any of the guards," senior point guard Lazeric Jones said.

UCLA's inside-outside approach should offset the loss of All-Pac-10 players Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt as well as a schedule that essentially consists of all road games with Pauley Pavilion undergoing renovations.

"We have the advantage," Howland said. "We need to get it in to Reeves, to Josh, to Travis, to Dave. We have to take advantage of the obvious strength we have inside by getting it inside."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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