Hilltoppers have had their eyes on Bruins

Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- Western Kentucky senior Tyrone Brazelton collected tapes last summer of point guards he admired. Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets, D.J. Augustin of Texas.

And UCLA junior Darren Collison.

A point guard himself, Brazelton said he wanted to learn as much as he could about how to lead a team, run an offense, orchestrate a defense.

“UCLA’s a good team, but overall I wanted to see how he ran his team,” Brazelton said. “I wanted to see more about his leadership, the way he uses ball screens, the way he attacks an offensive player. I think it helped me.”


Brazelton will find out tonight just how much the tapes helped when his 12th-seeded Hilltoppers (29-6) face top-seeded UCLA (33-3) in an NCAA West Regional semifinal at U.S. Airways Arena at about 6:40 p.m.

As UCLA freshman center Kevin Love noted Wednesday afternoon, no 12th-seeded team has ever beaten a top-seeded team. This is UCLA’s 31st appearance in the Sweet 16. It is Western Kentucky’s third.

“History’s on their side, not on our side,” Hilltoppers guard Ty Rogers said. “But the game isn’t played about history. We’ve got some stuff on our side too.”

Collison quickly pointed out one thing Western Kentucky has. “Seniors, lots of seniors. That speaks for itself,” he said. “Seniors know how to play very well. This is it for their whole careers.

“They don’t get rattled, they give it their best shot.”

Western Kentucky’s senior starters are guards -- Brazelton, Rogers and Courtney Lee.

Lee is the scorer, strong-armed, big-shouldered and averaging 20.5 points a game. UCLA Coach Ben Howland and Collison predicted Lee will play in the NBA.

“He scores really effectively,” Collison said. “He helps set their tempo.”

The Hilltoppers’ tempo is usually up.

Bruins forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said what he had learned so far about the Hilltoppers:

“They are aggressive playing defense. They pressure the ball and try to take you out of your comfort zone. On offense, they have many weapons. Their guards are good, they run good sets. But I think we have the talent and athletes to play up-tempo too. Most of our offense is created by our defense, but we can play fast.”

Whether UCLA can sustain a fast tempo will partly be a result of how Mbah a Moute’s sprained left ankle holds up. After last Saturday’s 51-49 victory over Texas A&M; -- Mbah a Moute’s first game after sitting out two -- the ankle swelled so severely he ended up wearing a walking boot again

“I couldn’t even walk Sunday,” Mbah a Moute said. “But I’ve been going good in practice yesterday and today. It’s still swollen, but it’s good.”

How hard UCLA practiced Tuesday was interpreted differently by Howland and backup forward Alfred Aboya.

“We had a long practice [Tuesday] for this time of year, probably about 1 [hour] 40 [minutes], 1:45,” Howland said.

Aboya, who was watching the movie “Scarface” on a portable DVD player, said, “I don’t call that practice. We just walked around. It was a pretty relaxed practice. [Wednesday] the same thing. We’re just trying to save our legs for tomorrow because tomorrow we have to give everything we have.”

While the Hilltoppers have experienced, talented guards, a freshman and a sophomore will be assigned to stop Love, the 6-10 Bruins freshman center who is averaging 17.3 points and 10.6 rebounds.

Freshman D.J. Magley, a 6-9, 260-pound freshman with little national reputation, said he didn’t know how he planned to guard Love. “That’s a good question,” he said. “I’m very excited because he’s a great inside player. And a great outside player too. It should be a fun game.”

That’s what Collison is hoping for. A fun game. He’ll be happy if the Hilltoppers press and trap and try to speed the tempo.

“It’s a lot of fun when we play a team that speeds it up because there are a lot of easy points in transition,” Collison said. “Whenever a team slows it down -- not to say we can’t play slow in the half-court set -- it makes it a little bit boring for the fans. Not that I care about the opinions, but it makes it more fun for us as well.”




UCLA’s matchup

A look at UCLA’s Sweet 16 game vs. Western Kentucky:

*--* STARTERS WESTERN Ht Wt Stats P UCLA Ht Wt Stats KENTUCKY Tyrone 6-0 180 13.9 ppg. G Darren 6-0 160 15.1 ppg. Brazelton Collison Courtney 6-5 200 20.5 ppg. G Russell 6-3 189 12.3 ppg. Lee Westbroo k Ty Rogers 6-3 195 6.5 ppg. G/F Josh 6-5 220 12.4 ppg. Shipp Jeremy 6-9 190 5.2 rpg. F Luc R. 6-8 232 8.6 ppg. Evans Mbah a Moute D.J. Magley 6-9 260 4.8 ppg. F/C Kevin 6-10 271 17.3 ppg. Love RESERVES A.J. 6-3 180 7.6 ppg. G/C Lorenzo 6-9 237 3.3 ppg. Slaughter Mata-Rea l Orlando 6-1 180 5.8 ppg. G/F James 6-8 228 2.1 ppg. Mendez-Val Keefe dez Boris 6-7 225 4.8 ppg. F Alfred 6-9 245 3.1 ppg. Siakam Aboya *--*

SCOUTING REPORT: The only Sweet 16 experience for the Hilltoppers comes from Coach Darrin Horn, who was a sophomore guard in 1993, the last time Western Kentucky made it this far. Horn’s team is loaded with senior leadership and talent -- guards Lee, Rogers and Brazelton have brought calm to a team not expected to get this far. The Hilltoppers are known for a trapping, pressure man-to-man defense. They average nearly eight steals a game and shoot 39.4% from three-point range. The Bruins hope to keep the tempo at a more medium pace and make the Hilltoppers prove they can defend Love.

KEY TO THE GAME: Westbrook holding Lee in check and Collison’s pressure on Brazelton when the Hilltoppers have the ball. Westbrook and Collison must keep their composure if the Hilltoppers press.

-- Diane Pucin