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Westbrook has earned respect

Times Staff Writer

Sophomore Russell Westbrook doesn’t run UCLA’s motion offense with the same ease as junior Darren Collison and he is still learning how to be the same fierce, on-the-ball defender as Collison, but Collison considered Westbrook’s 40-minute, one-turnover performance against Michigan State and said, “That was phenomenal.”

Westbrook still stands up too straight when he dribbles and he doesn’t have the same natural sense of where to pass the ball so that UCLA’s players have the best chance to get a great shot.

But, says Collison, who hopes to return to the lineup early next month having recovered from a sprained left knee, Westbrook is doing what Coach Ben Howland wants. “He’s not making any big mistakes,” Collison said. “Russell is playing solid.”

Josh Shipp says Westbrook takes stock after every game, and although the sophomore gives the impression that mistakes and missed shots don’t faze him, Shipp says he takes his mistakes hard.

“Russell is a guy who plays kind of streaky sometimes,” Shipp said. “He plays off his confidence and to win a game like Michigan State, Russell will build on that.”

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Howland apologized Thursday for saying after Tuesday’s game that Westbrook might have been acting as if his left knee was sore after he was slammed to the floor by three Michigan State defenders as he tried to make a driving layup.

“I’ll tell you what,” Howland said, “when I watched that fall of Russell’s on film, it was a pretty serious fall. I regret what I said after the game because he’s done that many times -- where he makes a bad play and then gets up slow like he’s injured, but he’s really not. That could have been a season-ending injury the way he fell. It was really something. The good news is, he’s fine.”

Howland also said that Alfred Aboya, who had fallen to the floor late in the game after bumping his right knee with a Spartan, was sore. “He did have some swelling after the game,” Howland said. “We did a precautionary MRI and it didn’t show anything wrong. I spoke with him a few minutes ago and he said he felt fine. He had some soreness, but nothing serious.”

As far as predicting when Collison will return, Howland would only say, “I have no idea.”

The Bruins practiced Thursday. Then, Howland said, “Everybody has somewhere to go and they will all be well fed.” As for himself, Howland said his wife and daughter were cooking. “I love gravy,” he said.

Howland spoke about Kevin Love’s rebounding ability, especially about the relentless way the freshman devours offensive rebounds.

“He has a great sense of position,” Howland said. “All great rebounders, it’s about position. And he’s very quick to the ball, quick to the glass.”

Love gives some credit for his rebounding acumen to time spent working with former Yale and NBA journeyman center Chris Dudley.

Dudley lives in Lake Oswego, Ore., near the Love family, and became Love’s life-in-the-NBA-lane tutor.

“Chris is a physical guy,” Love as said. “He schooled me pretty good.”

Dudley said he would try to be at today’s UCLA-Yale game at Pauley Pavilion, though he said it might be hard not to root for Yale. Dudley, originally from San Diego, is a third-generation Yalie. He played 16 years in the NBA and was called “Dr. Crash,” for his willingness to knock down anyone, teammates or opponents, to get the ball.

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TONIGHT

vs. Yale, 7:30

Site -- Pauley Pavilion.

Radio -- 1150.

Records -- UCLA 5-0, Yale 1-2.

Update -- Yale made Thanksgiving a homecoming for junior Travis Pinick of Orange by practicing at Orange Lutheran High on Thanksgiving Day. Travis’ father, Gregg, is Orange Lutheran’s principal. Eric Flato, who is a preseason favorite to be Ivy League player of the year, leads the Bulldogs. The only other time Yale has played UCLA, Gail Goodrich scored 25 points on Dec. 26, 1963, and the Bruins won, 95-65. The Bulldogs have been picked to finish second in the Ivy League this year behind Cornell. Yale has its first set of twins in school history: sophomores Caleb and Nick Holmes. Coach James Jones’ younger brother, Joe, is head coach at Columbia.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com


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