There’s a lot on line tonight
Tonight’s game between third-ranked UCLA and seventh-ranked Stanford at Pauley Pavilion is weighted with significance small and large.
UCLA won the first game between these teams, 76-67, at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 3.
The Bruins (26-3, 14-2) have a one-game lead over the Cardinal (24-4, 13-3) in the Pacific 10 Conference, and if they win the rematch, they will have swept Stanford in the regular season, clinched their third consecutive conference regular-season title, and probably given themselves a familiar road to a possible third consecutive Final Four -- a bus ride to the first two rounds of games at Anaheim’s Honda Center and a one-hour flight to Phoenix, a city adjacent to Tempe, where UCLA routed Arizona State last week.
A Stanford win might mean the Cardinal could take the title -- depending on UCLA’s Saturday game against California and Stanford’s against USC -- and maybe earn that NCAA No. 1 seeding itself, leaving UCLA headed to Charlotte or Detroit or Houston.
And as if this game needed extra oomph, it has been mentioned that the league player-of-the-year honor might come down to this matchup -- Kevin Love, UCLA’s 6-foot-10 freshman center, vs. Brook Lopez, Stanford’s 7-foot sophomore power forward.
Fred Washington, a Stanford senior forward who is from Torrance Bishop Montgomery High, had a simple answer for who deserves the league’s top player honor: “The best player on the winning team.”
Love is averaging 17.3 points and 11.1 rebounds. He is sixth in the conference in scoring, second in rebounding and fourth in field-goal percentage.
Because he sat out nine games while serving an academic suspension, Brook Lopez has not played in 75% of Stanford’s game, the minimum required to be mentioned in the league’s individual statistics rankings. But his 19.3 points a game would place him fourth behind California’s Ryan Anderson, USC’s O.J. Mayo and Arizona’s Jerryd Bayless, his 7.8 rebounds would tie him for sixth in the conference with Arizona’s Jordan Hill, and he would be second in the league in blocked shots a game at 2.31. His twin brother, Robin, is second in the league with 2.25 blocks a game.
Speaking as if he meant it, Love said he’d accept scoring zero points and grabbing zero rebounds if it meant a UCLA win and dismissed talk of winning player of the year with a one-game performance.
“Silly,” Love said.
Love says he relishes playing against teams with premier inside players. The Lopezes combine for 4.56 blocked shots a game, as well as 28.8 points and 13.5 rebounds.
“I like playing against bigger and longer defenders because sometimes I feel like I have something to prove,” Love said. “Whether it’s rebounding or getting my shots off or putting them in I need to go out Thursday and have my best game possible, whether that’s going out and getting 14, 15 rebounds or scoring 20 points.”
In UCLA’s earlier win over Stanford, Love had 15 points and seven rebounds in his first conference game. The Lopez twins both fouled out.
Brook Lopez raised some eyebrows in Stanford’s 82-79 win over Washington last weekend when he did some exclamatory chest thumping and yelling after several baskets.
“I think he was trying to send us a message a little bit that he’s coming,” Love said. “He’s here; he’s a very good player. But I don’t get into the trash talking, the chest bumping stuff. I just go out and play my game.”
Love says he hopes to draw some fouls by using pump fakes and said he would play physically. “I remember a play in the last game where I kind of pump faked at the free-throw line and went around Brook,” Love said, “and when I went back down he wasn’t expecting me to pump fake again but I did. I got Brook another foul.”
UCLA point guard Darren Collison said that it is more than the blocked shots that make the Lopezes difficult to deal with. “They change shots,” Collison said. “You can probably get a shot over them, but they still alter it in a different way. You have to really play physical with them. You have to get them in foul trouble.”
Backup forward Alfred Aboya paid the twins the ultimate compliment. “They know how to play basketball,” he said. “They are efficient and have a great sense of where the ball is going to be and how to get there. This will be a hard game on everybody.”
Love is among 10 players nominated for the Oscar Robertson Trophy awarded by the U.S. Basketball Writers Assn. to the college player of the year. The others are D.J. Augustin (Texas); Michael Beasley (Kansas State); Chris Douglas-Roberts (Memphis); Shan Foster (Vanderbilt); Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina); Luke Harangody (Notre Dame); Robbie Hummel (Purdue); A.J. Price (Connecticut); and D.J. White (Indiana).
Former UCLA coach John Wooden, 97, remains hospitalized while recovering from a broken wrist and collarbone he suffered in a fall last Thursday.
Stanford, 8, FSN Prime Ticket
Radio -- 570.
Site -- Pauley Pavilion.
Records -- UCLA 26-3, 14-2 Pac-10, Stanford 24-4, 13-3.
Update -- In four games against UCLA, Stanford guard Anthony Goods (Corona Centennial) has made 17 of 30 shots, including 10 three-pointers. Reserve forward Lawrence Hill has made 16 of 34 shots in five games against UCLA. The Bruins have won four of the last five games between the teams.