Oct. 23, 2007
LOS ANGELES - Even with the loss of consensus first-team All-American guard and 2007 Pacific-10 Player of the Year Arron Afflalo to the NBA, the UCLA Bruins again look to be in the national title hunt in 2007-08.
The lofty expectations are partly due to the fact that the back-to-back defending Pacific-10 Conference champions return four starters and 13 letterwinners from a squad that has advanced to the NCAA Final Four in each of the last two seasons.
It could also be because the Bruins have a proven winner in head coach Ben Howland, who returns for his fifth season at the helm of UCLA. Howland has guided the Bruins to 62 victories in the last two seasons, which is the most ever in a two-year span in UCLA men's basketball history.
Or it could simply be the incoming recruiting class that is small in numbers but huge in talent -- National High School Player of the Year Kevin Love (Lake Oswego, Ore., Lake Oswego HS) and the Los Angeles City Player of the Year, Chace Stanback (Los Angeles, Fairfax HS).
If the Bruins are going to make a run at their 12th national title, they will need to get healthy and stay healthy.
Two Bruins had surgeries during the off-season and will both be key ingredients for UCLA in 2007-08. Junior guard/forward Josh Shipp, the team's leading returning scorer at 13.3 points per game had surgery on his left hip in April, immediately after the conclusion of the 2006-07 season. He should be ready to go in the season-opener in Pauley Pavilion against Portland State on Nov. 9. Sophomore forward James Keefe had surgery on his left shoulder in August and should be available in time for the grueling Pacific-10 schedule. Keefe played well down the stretch last season, especially in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bruins won the 2007 Pac-10 regular season title with a 15-3 league mark while posting a 30-6 overall record on the year, falling to Florida in the national semifinals. UCLA also won the Maui Invitational and opened the year with 14 straight wins.
The Bruins will be in good hands with junior guard Darren Collison running the point. Collison led the Pac-10 in steals (2.2 steals per game) and in three-point field goal percentage (.447, 51-of-114) last year. He averaged 12.7 points per game and was second in the league in assists (5.7 assists per game) and in assist/turnover ratio (2.0). Collison, an All-Pac-10 selection a year ago, was also a Bob Cousy Award finalist, honoring the nation's best collegiate point guard. A second team All-American in 2007, Collison should also be a front-runner for the Cousy Award this season.
The Bruins also return a pair of juniors who were honorable mention All-Pac-10 honorees last year in forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Shipp.
Shipp was second on the team and 17th in the Pac-10 in scoring last year and ranked eighth in steals (1.3 steals per game). Coming off a right hip surgery heading into the season, he proved to be durable, playing and starting in 35 of the 36 games on the year. He finished the year second on the squad in slam dunks with 25 and displayed a strong ability to get to the basket, leading the team in points in the paint with 220 on the year.
Mbah a Moute didn't put up the same numbers as he did when he won the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year title in 2006, but he still made a solid contribution in every facet of the game. He finished the year averaging 8.2 points per game and a team-leading 7.4 rebounds per contest, which ranked seventh in the league. He was second on the team and third in the league in steals (1.7 steals per game). He also led the Bruins with 87 offensive rebounds (2.5 per game), which ranked eighth in the Pac-10. Like Collison and Shipp, Mbah a Moute also started and played in 35 of the 36 games a year ago.
The only returning starter to start in all 36 games in 2007 is senior center Lorenzo Mata-Real. He also proved to be durable last year after only playing in 21 games in each of his first two seasons. He led the Bruins in blocked shots with 42 and in field goal percentage at 64.2 percent (102-of-159). His percentage was even better in Pac-10 games, shooting 68.0 percent (51-of-75) from the field. Mata-Real finished second on the team and 18th in the league in rebounding (5.4 rebounds per game). He averaged 6.6 points per game and provided many intangibles, including leading UCLA in slam dunks (31) and in dives for loose balls (25) and finishing second in charges taken (18).
UCLA returns nine other lettermen, two of whom have played key roles on two different Final Four teams.
Junior forward/center Alfred Aboya will be a key component in 2007-08 after averaging 4.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last year. A very hard worker and a tireless defender, Aboya led the Bruins in charges taken last year (23). He also excells in offensive rebounding, ranking second on the team with 68, just behind his 79 defensive boards.
Junior guard Michael Roll will vie for more playing time with the departure of Afflalo. Roll was steady for the Bruins last year, averaging 4.9 points per game and is one of three players to record more assists (38) than turnovers (22) last year. In fact, Roll's 22 turnovers in 586 minutes played averages out to be the fewest turnovers on the team (just one turnover for every 26.6 minutes played). He shot 35.8 percent from three-point range (38-of-106) a year ago, and his 38 three-pointers were fourth on the team and the most of any reserve.
Westbrook should get an opportunity to see some time at shooting guard while serving as Collison's back-up at the point. He averaged 3.4 points per game while shooting 40.9 percent (9-of-22) from three-point range.
Keefe received more playing time at the end of last season and should bounce back from his off-season shoulder surgery. He averaged 1.0 points and 1.6 rebounds per game during the 2006-07 season.
Dragovic was sidelined for the first 10 games due to an NCAA suspension but is ready to contribute immediately in 2007-08. He averaged 1.8 points and 1.2 rebounds per game in a limited role last year.
The much-anticipated arrival of Love and Stanback is here, and both should make an immediate impact.
To say that Love, the 2007 Naismith, John R. Wooden, USA Today, National High School Coaches Association, McDonald's, Gatorade and Parade Magazine National Player of the Year is a highly-touted freshman would be an understatement.
Love averaged 33.9 points, 17.0 rebounds, 4.2 blocks and 4.0 assists per game last year at Lake Oswego HS. He broke Oregon's 50-year-old scoring record with 2,628 points (26.8 points per game).
Stanback, a two-time Division I state championship winner from Fairfax HS, led the Lions to a 28-5 mark last year. He averaged 25.8 points and 11.9 rebounds per game in his senior season. A high school All-American, Stanback won his first state championship as a freshman in 2004 when Shipp, his current Bruin teammate, was a senior at Fairfax HS.