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UCLA won't be surprised by rough basketball games in China

The Bruins, who play Tsinghua on Saturday, are eager to start the exhibition games even though they know Georgetown had a physical game last summer in China.

August 24, 2012|By David Wharton
  • Last summer, Georgetown made a similar tour of China and got into a game-ending brawl with a professional team, the Bayi Rockets.
Last summer, Georgetown made a similar tour of China and got into a game-ending… (Reuters )

BEIJING -- Don't ask UCLA basketball players about the opponent they will face Saturday night. They haven't seen any videotape. They don't have a scouting report.

And they don't really care.

As junior Travis Wear put it: "We're just looking forward to getting out there and playing a game."

The Bruins will be facing a team from Tsinghua University in the first of three exhibitions scheduled during a weeklong visit to China.

Tsinghua ranks among the most prestigious academic institutions in this country, the campus situated in a former Qing Dynasty imperial garden. But that does not make it a basketball powerhouse, not in a land where the college game is still developing.

An aborted scrimmage this week provided no clues other than giving UCLA a glimpse of an opponent that, by looks alone, appeared smaller and less athletic.

Regardless, this game is important to the Bruins for several reasons.

Teams that play internationally during the summer are allowed to hold an extra 10 practices under NCAA rules, so UCLA gets a head start on the season.

Freshmen such as Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams cannot wait to make their college debuts — even if far from home — and the older guys seem just as eager.

Saturday marks their first time back on the court since a turbulent 2011-12 season that included too many negative headlines and not enough wins.

Coach Ben Howland faces increased scrutiny after an article in Sports Illustrated questioned his control over the program. He will be expected to turn things around immediately with a roster that features the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation.

Wear, like other players, prefers to view the situation from a positive angle. "I'm excited about seeing what our team is going to look like," he said.

This summer, the Bruins have talked about pushing the ball upcourt with greater urgency. Howland insists that he wants more tempo and has focused his practices on running.

"We haven't spent nearly as much time on the defensive end of the floor as we're spending on offense right now," he said.

That means lots of work on transition, inbound plays and attacking different types of zones.

"Putting things in that are all new," Howland said. "I think our offense will be ahead of our defense on this trip."

Not all of the pieces are in place. Blue-chip freshman Tony Parker is still nursing a sore hamstring and Shabazz Muhammad, the jewel of the incoming class, remains at home while the NCAA investigates whether he received improper benefits while in high school.

So Howland will probably juggle the lineup, perhaps using a different starting five in each game. Anderson and Adams — who has shown a pure shooting stroke in recent practices — should get significant playing time.

Tsinghua is expected to respond in the physical style favored by many Chinese teams.

Last summer, Georgetown made a similar tour of this country and got into a game-ending brawl with a professional team, the Bayi Rockets.

A rough game could be difficult for UCLA players who have spent the last few days as tourists. On Friday, they hiked along the Great Wall, dined at a restaurant famous for its Peking duck and walked the palatial grounds of the Forbidden City.

As has been the case since they arrived Wednesday, the Bruins have drawn crowds wanting to shake hands and snap photographs. Tsinghua will pay the Bruins a different sort of attention.

"I just heard you've got to go out there and play really aggressive," guard Tyler Lamb said. "You're probably not going to get all the calls you want."

Wear figures it could take awhile to adapt. "The first couple of minutes might be awkward," he said. "But once we pick up on the physicality and how the game is being called, I don't think there will be a problem."

A Chinese network reportedly will broadcast some or all of UCLA's games here. The Bruins face Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the professional Shanghai Sharks early next week.

Pac-12 Conference officials were hoping to replay those telecasts on their new network in the near future, though no plans had been finalized.

None of that mattered to an increasingly antsy Bruins team.

"I'm ready to go," Anderson. "I want to play."

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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