UCLA poised Four more

LOS ANGELES – A modified style at UCLA could lead the Bruins to the same place for the fourth straight year.

The Final Four.

With Kevin Love having bolted for the NBA after one season, the Bruins lose their burly center and the keystone of last year’s offense. But senior point guard Darren Collison suggested the Bruins could be even more potent offensively without Love.

Last year, in Collison’s words, the Bruins dumped the ball inside and fed Love in the post and “watched him score 100 times.” Collison said it as if he had just as much fun watching paint dry and grass grow.

The offense at times required Collison and his teammates to wait for Love to lumber down the floor. It’ll be different now that Alfred Aboya is the projected starting center, according to Collison.

“[Aboya] can run the court probably better than Kevin, so it makes our offense a lot faster,” he said. “We can play a lot faster than we have.”

Apprised of Collison’s comment, UCLA coach Ben Howland grinned and said, “He’s hoping.”

“We still have to be able to score inside and manufacture points around the basket and get to the foul line,” Howland said.

Yet to listen to the senior point guard and coach, it’s clear they think the Bruins have enough talent to reach the Final Four again.

In addition to Love, starting guard Russell Westbook and sixth man Luc Richard Mbah a Moute left early for the NBA. Collison shrugged off concerns while noting the Bruins welcome the nation’s top incoming freshman class. Jrue Holiday, the star of the class, already is projected at Westbrook’s old spot – shooting guard.

“These freshman guys, they’ve been terrific,” Collison said. “These guys, they make our job a lot easier because they’re not regular freshmen. They just go out there and they’re talented enough and they know how to play the game.”

After almost a dozen practices, Collison said the roster reminds him of the one that reached the 2006 national championship game.

“My freshman year, I think the reasons we went to the national championship was our starting five was good, but the depth brought us a long way,” he said. “And I think this year is going to be the same way, because of that depth.

“… Collectively, the talent is definitely there. We’re real skillful on the offensive end. Defense, that’s something we’ve been preaching since Day 1. That’s something we’ve done ever since coach Howland’s come here.”

So, could this UCLA team actually be better than each of the past three?

“Who’s to say?” Howland said. “Only time will tell.”

Scouting Obama

Barack Obama’s basketball game could prove to be a liability when Republicans learn the Democratic nominee has a predictable pattern: he always goes left. So says Craig Robinson, the first-year head coach at Oregon State who also is Obama’s brother-in-law and occasional teammate in pickup games.

“He’s not one of these lefties that’s better going to his right,” said Robinson, whose sister Michelle is in line to become First Lady. “He is a left-handed left-hander, so he’s going left. And if you can stop him from going left, he’ll pick it up and shoot it.”

Other observations about Obama’s game: “He has a very good outside shot as most people do when they get older. He’s wiry, strong and he knows the game, which makes it fun to play with him. He’s a very high basketball IQ player.”

As far as Oregon State being picked to finish last in the Pac-10, Robinson said, “To quote my brother-in-law, I like being the underdog.”

Vote of confidence

Jay John lasted only halfway through last season as Oregon State’s head coach, getting canned when the Beavers stumbled to an 0-6 start in the Pac-10. Oregon State fans might hold John responsible for the team’s 0-18 finish in conference play, but Mike Montgomery thought enough of John to bring him aboard his staff shortly after Montgomery took the head job at California.

Montgomery coached for 18 years at Stanford but figures he could use an insider’s perspective after his fling with the NBA and hiatus from the Pac-10.

“I actually looked at several guys who have been head coaches that brought some experience and knowledge to the table,” he said. “… I think he’s a solid guy and having just worked in the league gives him the opportunity to know about the schools first-hand, know about the scouting reports that maybe I have not been familiar with in the last couple of years.”

Pac-10 polling

No reason to wait until Tuesday for these results. Of the 38 voters who participated in the preseason media poll, all but one picked UCLA to win the conference title. The only other first-place vote went to No. 2 Arizona State. USC was picked third followed by Arizona, Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Cal, Stanford and Oregon State.

Josh Peter is a writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Josh a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Oct 31, 2008