It’s a meeting of old friends
UCLA Coach Ben Howland and Cal State Fullerton’s basketball coach, Bob Burton, are close friends. Bruins assistant Donny Daniels came to Westwood after being the Titans’ head coach.
Nine of Burton’s players are from Southern California. Three of them -- Bobby Brown, Scott Cutley and Jarrel Lake -- played at Westchester High and against and with several Bruins on summer league teams.
So there will be few strangers when the Bruins (6-0) play host to the Titans (5-1) tonight at Pauley Pavilion.
Bruins center Lorenzo Mata said Monday, “There’s a lot of talkers on that team. This is going to be fun.”
Guard Arron Afflalo said, “I’ve known most of those guys for a while. They are very familiar. They have a lot of aggressive players.”
Most appealing for UCLA, now ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll and the ESPN/USA Today coach’s poll, is that Cal State Fullerton wants a fast tempo. The Titans average 90 points a game and have scored 100 or more twice this season.
“We’re going to come in, run down court, play fast,” Burton said. “If we’re not defending and not scoring it’s going to be a long game. But we won’t slow it down.”
Burton and Howland have been friends since Burton was coach at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif., and Howland was an assistant at UC Santa Barbara.
“It was a godsend for me when Ben got the UCLA job and I got my first shot at a Division I head job at Fullerton,” Burton said. “He’s helped figure out the scheduling stuff and the coaching stuff. We fight sometimes, we agree sometimes, but I consider him one of my best friends.”
Howland and Burton say they didn’t want this game. “I don’t like playing my friends,” Howland said. But UCLA was having trouble filling its schedule this year and Burton said, “I may not like playing Ben but this is a highlight for our kids.”
This is Burton’s fourth year at Fullerton. Two years ago, he took the Titans to the National Invitation Tournament and finished with a 21-11 record. Last season, they were 16-13.
The face of Burton’s teams has been senior guard Brown, who is 6 feet 2 and 175 pounds. Howland and Afflalo called Brown a legitimate NBA prospect.
Brown is averaging 16.3 points and four assists a game. After testing himself at preseason NBA camps last summer he learned, according to Burton, “that he needed to get stronger, be a better leader and learn, basically, to be a pure point guard.”
Because he and so many of his teammates have played against Afflalo, Mata, Josh Shipp and former UCLA guard Jordan Farmar in the summer, Brown said, “We’re not in awe of these guys. We know all these guys; we’ve played against them. Some teams might come in and get lights in their eyes but to us it’s just a game.”
As Brown has been polishing his point guard skills, junior forward Scott Cutley has become the scoring leader. Cutley transferred back home from Kent State, where he was selected freshman of the year in the Mid-American Conference.
“We wound up with Scott because of Bobby Brown,” Burton said. “They are that close.”
Even though Cutley is averaging over 20 points a game, Burton said, “We haven’t seen the best of Scott because he has a bad back. So he’s not yet as good a player as he’s going to be.”
Shipp was chosen Pacific 10 Conference player of the week for averaging 17.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in victories over Long Beach State and UC Riverside. Point guard Darren Collison won last week.
vs. Cal State Fullerton (5-1)
7:30, FSN Prime Ticket
Site -- Pauley Pavilion.
Radio -- 570.
Records -- UCLA 6-0, Cal State Fullerton 5-1.
Update -- UCLA has won all eight meetings against Fullerton. The last came at Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 13, 1997, and the final score was 120-91. That’s the most points the Titans have allowed, although they did give up 110 against Eastern Washington last week.