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YEARNING FOR A LOST LOVE

Times Staff Writer

On the one hand, Kevin Love turned down Oregon, his home-state university, to play basketball for UCLA, the powerhouse school in the same conference.

On the other hand, Kevin’s father, Stan, once an Oregon basketball great himself, ripped into the school and its coach, Ernie Kent, after Kevin committed to UCLA, saying Kent “shot himself in the foot,” by doing a poor recruiting job on his son.

So, most fans at McArthur Court in Eugene tonight will be clapping for anyone but Love, father and son.

Love returns as eighth-ranked UCLA (16-2, 4-1 in Pacific 10 Conference play) plays Oregon (12-6, 3-3) in a game that is expected to inspire Photoshopped posters featuring the words “Love” and “traitor.”

Stan Love tells a story of how UCLA Coach Ben Howland and North Carolina Coach Roy Williams helped Kevin carry workout equipment into and out of a practice gym while Oregon Coach Ernie Kent “kept one eye on his BlackBerry and never lifted a finger.”

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Dan Cogan, an Oregon sophomore and president of the Pit Crew, the gold-and-green-wearing students who will number about 1,700 and who have weekly meetings to get ready for new opponents, said indignation and resentment toward Love, who played at Lake Oswego High near Portland, is more pointed than it might be toward another in-state player who left Oregon.

“Stan did go to Oregon,” Cogan said. “When Kevin first committed to UCLA, Stan chose to take a shot at the basketball program and the university, so we don’t consider him to be a Duck. He’s a traitor, that’s what he is.

“Kevin, we have mixed feelings. I saw him play in high school and he’s the best high school player I’ve ever seen, but there’s a lot of guys from Lake Oswego who have a lot of negative feeling toward Kevin. There’s a lot of people up there who think Kevin is pretty high and mighty. And his dad is worse.”

Stan Love said he never thought about missing the game to deflate some of the negativity. “No way,” he said. “My brother is so excited he’s flying up from Tahoe. My sister is there, my brother’s family. The Love family will be targeted, so, great. It’s going to be bad.”

Cogan said that with the help of Photoshop, the Pit Crew has plans for using a photo taken at McArthur Court last year when Love’s team lost in the state championships. It shows Love crying.

“There’s a lot of people up here who want to see Kevin cry again,” Cogan said.

Love said he has told his UCLA teammates they are lucky. “No heat on them,” Love said. “I know for a fact the fans will be on me and it’s not going to be pretty. I’m expecting nothing but boos.”

There is an older faction of Oregon fans and alumni that won’t be haranguing Love. They blame Kent for not successfully recruiting the player some say was the greatest high school star ever in the state.

Ken Kuzaak, who played pickup ball with Stan Love while both were at Oregon 30 years ago, hasn’t been to a Ducks game in more than two years partly because he said he was disgusted at the “arrogance” he thought Kent showed toward the Love family.

“Stan would have liked nothing better than to see Kevin at Oregon,” Kuzaak said. “And I hear the Oregon fans have some nasty surprises planned.”

Kent said he didn’t feel any differently about losing Love to UCLA than he did losing Kyle Singler, another Oregon high school star, to Duke. Kent also said he didn’t expect heightened emotions at McArthur Court.

“Oregon fans are different,” Kent said. “They are not fans that turn things into hatred. But fans will be fans.”

Stan Love disagrees about the hatred part. When Kevin signed with UCLA, his father said the family was inundated with nasty e-mails and Oregon fans showed up at Love’s high school games to boo the senior.

That behavior, Stan said, was both puzzling and invigorating. “The best thing you can do is get under Kevin’s skin,” Stan said. “Then just watch out.”

The Bruins need everyone to be motivated. They might be short-handed by two inside players because center Lorenzo Mata-Real and forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are recovering from concussions suffered in last Saturday’s loss to USC.

Phil Cherry, another Oregon fan but also a friend of Stan Love’s, predicted that disappointment more than anger would fuel the crowd.

“The biggest thing is, the fans thought Kevin could be the savior. And they are still in denial because they blame Stan for having animosity toward the Oregon staff,” Cherry said.

“But truthfully, Kevin was never going to Oregon. So it will be loud and a little ugly . . . but I think all the Loves will handle it.”

TONIGHT

at Oregon, 7:30, FSN Prime Ticket

Radio -- 570.

Site -- McArthur Court, Eugene.

Records -- UCLA 16-2, 4-1; Oregon 12-6, 3-3.

Update -- The Ducks are undefeated at McArthur Court this season and gave UCLA its first loss last season there. Oregon has three senior starters. Forward Maarty Leunen is averaging 15.9 points and 9.9 rebounds and has 12 double-doubles. Guard Malik Hairston averages 18.0 points to lead the team. The third senior is guard Bryce Taylor from North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake High. Freshman point guard Kamyron Brown, from Santa Ana Mater Dei, is averaging 24 minutes and leads the Ducks in assists with 77. Sophomore forward Joevan Catron, who had been starting before injuring his foot Dec. 28, may play for the first time since the injury. Catron scored 15 second-half points in Oregon’s win over then-25th-ranked Kansas State in November.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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NO. 8 UCLA AT OREGON

Tonight at McArthur Court, 7:30, FSN Prime Ticket


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