UCLA is still figuring out how to play without star point guard Darren Collison.
With Collison on the bench, the second-ranked Bruins face their biggest test of the young season on Tuesday when they face No. 10 Michigan State in the championship game of the CBE Classic in Kansas City, Mo.
Collison has yet to play this season after injuring his knee in UCLA’s first preseason game on Nov. 2. The junior, who averaged 12.7 points and 5.7 assists in 2006-07, is not expected back until Nov. 28 against George Washington.
Sophomore Russell Westbrook has started in his place and is averaging 11.5 points and 6.8 assists. However, the Bruins (4-0) have turned the ball over 66 times so far without their usual ballhandler, including 18 in Monday’s 71-59 semifinal win over Maryland.
UCLA is also missing guard Michael Roll and forward James Keefe - both because of foot injuries - and had just eight scholarship players in uniform against the Terrapins.
“We were short-handed and got fatigued at the end,” Bruins coach Ben Howland said.
The depleted lineup could be a problem against Michigan State (3-0), which is averaging 85.0 points per game as it tries to install a new, up-tempo offense. The Spartans, who have outscored their first three opponents by an average of 18 points, scored just 65.0 points per game last season.
However, the transition hasn’t been easy - Michigan State committed 20 turnovers in their 83-65 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Wednesday and 17 in Monday’s 86-83 victory over Missouri. The Spartans had trouble with the Tigers’ full-court pressure and twice lost double-digit leads before squeaking out the win.
“Some of our younger players weren’t ready for that kind of pressure and intensity at this time of the year,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It’s great when you can learn and still win. That’s what we did.”
The Bruins are forcing an average of 20 turnovers per game.
UCLA freshman Kevin Love has helped to make up for Collison’s absence, averaging 20 points and 11.8 rebounds. He had 18 points and 16 boards against the Terrapins.
The Bruins struggled offensively overall against Maryland, shooting a season-low 37.7 percent from the field.
“To win shooting 37 percent says a lot about our defense,” Howland said.
Preseason All-American Drew Neitzel scored 21 points to lead Michigan State on Monday. The senior guard had struggled somewhat in his first two games, scoring just 27 total points, and was largely quiet in Monday’s second half before hitting a late 3-pointer and a pair of free throws with 2.4 seconds left.
Sophomore forward Raymar Morgan scored 19 to match his team-leading average, but freshman guard Chris Allen - who came in averaging 15 points through his first two college games - was held scoreless.
UCLA and Michigan State are meeting for just the seventh time, with the Bruins holding a 4-2 edge. UCLA won the last meeting, 76-64 at Michigan State on Dec. 21, 2004.