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Shipp gets extra shot attention

Times Staff Writer

After taking Easter Sunday off, UCLA Coach Ben Howland had a busy Monday.

The top-seeded Bruins (33-3) are preparing for their NCAA West Regional semifinal game against 12th-seeded Western Kentucky (29-6), set for about 6:40 p.m. Thursday in Phoenix, but Howland had more on his mind than figuring out how to deal with the Hilltoppers’ high-speed offense and defense.

Howland spent 75 minutes in the gym supervising Josh Shipp as the junior forward, who went scoreless in Saturday’s 51-49 win over Texas A&M;, took 375 shots in an effort to bust out of his shooting slump.

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He also reported that forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was sent to have an MRI exam on his sprained left ankle. Mbah a Moute sat out two games before returning to play 32 minutes and get two points, eight rebounds and six turnovers Saturday. The results of the MRI won’t be available until today.

“His ankle was swollen and I would say pretty severely swollen” Sunday, Howland said. “I was surprised and a little bit down by it. Barring any unforeseen abnormality on the MRI, I’m sure Luc will gut it out and play Thursday. Now there’s always the potential he could tweak it in practice.

“I think one of the things that hurt his timing [against Texas A&M;] was that he hadn’t practiced in a week and then we threw him out into a game. I probably made a mistake and should have played him against Mississippi Valley State. His rebounding, his defense, his double teams, he can create a lot of havoc in the game. I don’t think we can advance much further without Luc.”

Howland said he wished he had spent time working with Shipp on his shot sooner.

“He took 325 shots and about 200 of them game shots out of all the sets we run, all the plays, zone shots. He shot it very well,” Howland said. “We’ll do some extra shooting [today] and I’ve waited probably too long to do that with him. But he shot it great today so I was very encouraged by that.”

Shipp was also suffering from strep throat Saturday and was put on a course of antibiotics.

As for what to expect from Western Kentucky, which won the Sun Belt Conference tournament to earn the automatic NCAA tournament bid, it will be a quick pace.

“They’re a pressing team that runs and jumps all the time,” Howland said. “They double team the ball in the backcourt early. Once you cross half court they double on ball screens. They’re primarily a pressure man-to-man defense. They make every pass hard to complete, force you into turnovers, try to speed you up into making bad decisions.”

Hilltoppers guards Courtney Lee and Tyrone Brazelton earned Howland’s notice as well.

“Lee is an NBA player with an NBA body,” Howland said. “Brazelton is very, very quick, quick as anybody we’ve seen all year.”

Lee is a 6-foot-5, 200-pound senior who averages 20.5 points a game. Brazelton is a 6-foot, 180-pound senior.

If there’s any team from the Pacific 10 Conference that Western Kentucky resembles, Howland said, it is Washington. And the Huskies gave UCLA one of its losses this season.

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The Hilltoppers are returning to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1993. The Bruins are back for the third year in a row and 31st overall.

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UCLA point guard Darren Collison has made 80 of his last 88 free throws (90.9%) over the last 22 games.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com


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