Nov. 22, 1999
LOS ANGELES - The good news for UCLA coach Steve Lavin is that he returns four starters from a young team that went 22-9 a season ago. The bad news is that one of them isn't Baron Davis.
The 12th-ranked Bruins, looking to overcome the loss of their go-to player and the disappointment of a tournament flop, open their season Tuesday night when they play Fairfield at Pauley Pavilion.
Davis, the athletic point guard who led the club in scoring last season, decided to leave school early, and the sophomore wound up being selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft.
His last game as a Bruin, however, was not a memorable one. UCLA, which entered the NCAA tournament as the South Region's fifth seed, was upset by unheralded 12th-seed Detroit, 56-53, in the first round.
This season, Lavin brings back a host of players who received significant court time a year ago. He hopes that the experience gained by his team, which was comprised primarily of underclassmen, translates into even more success.
"We have 10 returning starters," Lavin said, referring to the number of returnees who started three or more games last season.
"Our goals are always the same ... win the Pac-10 championship, go to the Final Four and compete for the national championship," he added. "I think this is a team that can compete nationally."
Although a bit more seasoned, the Bruins are still a very youthful group. The starting lineup will most likely consist of four sophomores and junior guard Earl Watson, who is expected to emerge in Davis' absence.
The sophomore trio of Jerome Moiso, Dan Gadzuric and JaRon Rush is one of the most potential-laden frontcourts in the country, and the unit was bolstered even further with the addition of blue-chip freshman Jason Kapono.
Fairfield, a member of the MAAC, has gotten off to an understandably slow start. The Stags dropped their first two games of the season against national heavyweights Kansas and UNLV on the road.
The team is led by guard Jermaine Clark, who is averaging 19.5 points per game.
By BRIAN OREFICE
AP MegaSports Writer