3-22-08 -- Any enjoyment UCLA got from its opening-round 41-point rout of Mississippi Valley State is over. Now, the top-seeded Bruins confront Texas A&M’s big frontcourt in a rematch from last season to be played on the same court where the Bruins won by three points.
Fifteen months ago, UCLA was ranked No. 1 and used late-game defensive stops to hold off the Aggies 65-62 in the John R. Wooden Classic doubleheader at Honda Center.
This time, there’s much more at stake. The Bruins (32-3) and ninth-seeded Aggies (25-10) play Saturday in a second-round West Region game, with the winner advancing to next week’s Phoenix regional.
“I think they’ll use it (the loss) as motivation for this game,” UCLA guard Darren Collison said Friday.
“We played really excellent down the stretch last year. The difference now is we got Kevin (Love), so I think it’s going to be a lot easier. It just comes down to us being physical with them. We got to be able to match their intensity.”
The teams have subtracted and added since that early December 2006 meeting. The Bruins lost Arron Afflalo and the Aggies lost Acie Law, both to the NBA, while coach Billy Gillispie left A&M for Kentucky.
But UCLA coach Ben Howland sees similarities between A&M’s team from then and now that time and personnel changes have not altered.
“They’re basically two very similar styles from coach Gillispie to coach (Mark) Turgeon,” he said. “Both man-to-man defense, they run motion, they get it into their bigs. They’re a very good offensive rebounding team, as they were a year ago.”
Both schools made big additions, with A&M getting 7-foot center DeAndre Jordan from Houston and the Bruins landing Love, a 6-10 center from Lake Oswego, Ore. The freshmen are pals from their junior high days playing on traveling teams.
“When he decides to go to the NBA, whenever that is, I think he’s going to be a lock for a top-five pick, just because he has the size, has the athleticism, and he is a great kid,” Love said.
Jordan averages 8.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, shoots 62 percent from the field, and hasn’t taken a 3-pointer all season.
Love, the Pac-10 player and freshman of the year, has better numbers. He averages 17.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, shoots 56 percent from the floor and 37 percent from long range.
Love asked Howland why he didn’t recruit Jordan.
“If I was the coach, I would have had him in there,” Love said.
Love and Jordan have been texting madly ahead of the game.
“Kevin and I have been making up different scenarios about tomorrow,” Jordan said. “If Kevin plays better than me and we get the win, then I get the win also. We’re both just looking at it as a team and trying to get a `W.”’
In that previous meeting, Josh Shipp scored 18 points and Collison added 15, but had six of UCLA’s 13 turnovers.
Law, now with the Atlanta Hawks, scored 21 points for A&M, which controlled the boards 34-23 and outshot UCLA in the second half. Dominique Kirk added 12 points and Joseph Jones had 11 points and 13 rebounds. The Bruins forced 20 turnovers.
Jones recalled Collison hitting a wide-open 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer that kept the Bruins ahead by six.
“The 3-pointer at halftime is what really hurt us,” Jones said. “This is going to be another great game, a defensive effort and hope we come out with a win this time.”
Love expects to add to the collection of scratches and bruises that decorate his bulky frame while going up against the 6-9 255-pound Jones, 6-9 250-pound Bryan Davis and 6-7 200-pound Josh Carter.
“They’re going to throw all those guys at me to bully me around a bit and try and get me disoriented,” Love said. “Even if I get fouled hard, whether it is a flagrant foul, I’m just going to have to keep my mind on the game and not feed into that stuff.”
Besides Love, the Bruins will shuttle in 6-9 Lorenzo Mata-Real, their only senior, while 6-8 Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will start and play for the first time since spraining his left ankle in last week’s Pac-10 tournament. James Keefe, a 6-8 sophomore, will continue getting minutes as a result of his solid play off the bench during the last week.
“We got to go out there and have our hard hats,” Kirk said. “It’s going to be a physical game, going to be mostly a defense game.”
Carter scored 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting while playing 36 minutes of the Aggies’ 67-62 win over BYU in their opener Thursday.
“He’s not going to get those looks tomorrow,” Turgeon said. “We know UCLA is going to double us; they just do it a little better than BYU. If we can handle that, we might sneak one out for him. Might sneak some out in transition.”
The Aggies are seeking a second consecutive final 16 berth. The Bruins want a third straight trip to the Final Four for a chance at the school’s record 12th national championship.
“There’s no holding back,” Collison said.