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Ben Howland's UCLA looks ahead, in a retro way

The Bruins basketball team will be a fixture at the Sports Arena — its home long ago — while Pauley Pavilion is renovated.

October 13, 2011|By Ben Bolch
  • UCLA Coach Ben Howland directs his team against Oregon State during a conference game last season at Pauley Pavilion, which is undergoing renovations this season.
UCLA Coach Ben Howland directs his team against Oregon State during a conference… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

UCLA might as well wear throwback jerseys throughout a season that figures to have a retro feel.

The Bruins are practicing in the creaky men's gymnasium on campus and will play most of their home games at the 52-year-old Sports Arena while Pauley Pavilion undergoes renovations.

Coach Ben Howland has already gushed about practicing near a chalkboard that the legendary John Wooden used during the 1964-65 season, the last in which UCLA regularly practiced in the men's gym and called the Sports Arena home.

Bruins fans can only hope the symmetry extends onto the court; UCLA won a national championship that season.

Times staff writer Ben Bolch looks at UCLA's five most pressing issues as it opens basketball practice.

Season-long nomads

Playing so-called home games less than a mile from archrival USC's campus could lead to some awkward moments.

Bruins fans could inadvertently cross paths with their Trojans counterparts as soon as UCLA's Nov. 11 opener against Loyola Marymount because USC plays Cal State Northridge that night at the Galen Center. The Bruins also figure to be the hosts in name only when they play USC on Feb. 15 at the Sports Arena.

Howland said he would reach out to students in an effort to boost attendance, but junior forward Reeves Nelson didn't seem worried about sparse crowds.

"Pauley wasn't exactly a sold-out crowd every time," Nelson said, "so as long as we have a certain amount, or at least anybody that's cheering for us, I think we'll be all right."

The Bruins will also play four "home" games at the Honda Center and an exhibition at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.

Bigger things

One of the biggest front lines in the nation grew 13 feet 8 inches instantaneously with the addition of 6-10 twins David and Travis Wear, who sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina.

Howland said his team plans to capitalize on its surplus of quality big men by often using three post players on the court.

"We'll give up some things maybe defensively — I hope not too much — but we should be a very good rebounding team on both ends of the floor," Howland said.

The versatility of the Bruins' bigs could make them dangerous. Nelson, the Wear twins and junior forward Brendan Lane all shoot three-pointers, making them difficult matchups.

Sophomore center Joshua Smith has added several post moves and a mid-range jumper to his offensive arsenal, and sophomore center Anthony Stover could be one of the top shot-blockers in the Pacific 12 Conference.

Lean on me?

UCLA did not have a senior on its roster last season, nor did it seem to possess a leader. As a result, the Bruins were prone to letdowns against lesser opponents and second-half lulls after taking big leads.

They now have a pair of seniors in point guard Lazeric Jones and his backup, Jerime Anderson, who must speak up for their team to step up. Jones has been designated a captain and several players said Anderson will command respect despite his pleading guilty this summer to misdemeanor charges in connection with the theft of a laptop on campus.

"Right now, to our team it's like it never happened," Jones said. "Jerime is definitely one of our vocal leaders and we're going to go by whatever he says."

Seeking their wings

UCLA must replace Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt, a pair of first-team all-conference players who left early for the NBA only to be sidelined by a protracted lockout.

Sophomore Tyler Lamb and freshman Norman Powell will battle for the starting shooting guard spot, while junior college transfer De'End Parker figures to take over at small forward.

Howland said Lamb, who made an abysmal 20.5% of his three-point attempts last season, had worked to remove the side spin on his shot.

Lending a hand

Jones should be a more reliable passer and shooter now that the injuries to his right middle finger and left wrist that plagued him over the final three months of last season have fully healed.

He also appears to be more confident after spending much of his summer playing in pickup games against NBA guards Russell Westbrook, Earl Watson and Andre Miller.

"Just the way they came at me every day," Jones said, "I had to give them all I had. I definitely feel like I've learned from that."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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