Texas coach Rick Barnes wasn't joking when he said: "I don't think players today know what I know about the history of college basketball. They stay pretty current. I don't think they understand tradition as much as the people who live through it."
"Oh really?" he said. "I don't know much about their history. I know who John Wooden is and what he looks like. I think the court's named after him. That's pretty much all I know."
For Texas, maybe that's a good thing. The current herd of Horns will not be playing the ghosts of UCLA's legendary past. Then again, the 2007-08 Bruins are more than enough to handle. A preseason No. 1 in many circles, UCLA is currently ranked No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today (coaches) Poll.
Sunday's showdown sets up as not only the most high-profile game on Texas' slate, it also promises to be the most physical.
"We're going to physically-challenged, big time, Sunday afternoon," Barnes said. "They are a very physical team. We're going to have to rebound."
UCLA's center of attention is, literally, 6-10 C Kevin Love, who leads his team in both scoring (18.1 ppg) and rebounding (10.6 rpg). He can run the floor and is a remarkably effective passer for a player his size. The Bruins also suit-up two of the countries top guards in Josh Shipp and Russell Westbrook. Each has posted a team-best 12 steals on the season while Westrbook leads his squad with 6.3 assists-per-game.
"I can guarantee they're going to start the game with a post-up on one of our guards," Barnes predicted. "They're guards are big. They're a much bigger team than we are."
Texas will also have to deal with the return of 6-1, 165-pound guard Darren Collison. Collison ranked in the top 10 in the Pac 10 last season in five statistical categories, including leading the league in steals (2.2 pg). The junior guard suffered a knee sprain in UCLA's exhibition against Azusa Pacific (Nov. 2), but got his first minutes in the Bruin's last game, an 83-60 win over George Washington.
Texas' scoring leader A.J. Abrams (20.7 ppg) will be assigned to Shipp (6-5) and looks to compensate for the six-inch height disadvantage.
"I've been playing against height my whole life," said the 5-11 Abrams. "It's not going to look that different."
Texas will counter with one of the more up-tempo and prolific offenses of Barnes' 10-year tenure. The Horns have been good for 88 ppg and all five starters are averaging in double-figures. Texas has been red-hot from outside the arc this season, draining 50 percent (62-of-124) of its attempts (the school record is 38.9 percent set just last year). Sophomore point guard D.J. Augustin is Texas' second-leading scorer (17.5 ppg) and assist-leader (7.0 apg). Sophomore F Damion James is Texas' chairman of the boards (8.2 rpg) and is averaging 10.5 points per outing.
Given Texas' myopic sense of hoops history, and considering that UCLA is one of five teams on Texas' schedule that is ranked either in the current Top 10, or was ranked in the Top 10 when Texas faced them, it makes sense that the Horns see Sunday's contest as a measuring stick rather than a 'statement game'.
"This is going to be a great test to see how far we've come," Augustin said.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. (CST) and will be televised nationally by Fox Sports Net.
A CHECK AT THE POLLS
After starting the season ranked No. 15/16, Texas vaulted to No. 8 in both major polls (AP, coaches) following a 97-78 thumping of then-No. 7 Tennessee in the Finals of the Legends Classic at Newark, N.J. The Horns have since knocked-off Texas Southern, 98-61, to raise their mark to 6-0.
UCLA is ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll and No. 2 (behind North Carolina) in the AP poll. The Bruins are 7-0 following a 83-60 shellacking of George Washington on Wednesday. UCLA's most impressive outing was a 68-63 against nationally-ranked Michigan State in the Finals of the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic in Kansas City. The Bruins rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit by grabbing 21 offensive boards and limiting the Spartans to 27 points following intermission.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING?
Texas has a chance to make history on its own this Sunday. Since the inception of the AP Poll in 1949, the highest-ranked opponent that the Horns have defeated in a true road game is No. 4 Memphis (January 2, 2006). Texas has upended an AP Top 10 foe on the road just six times in school history, but four of those wins have come during Barnes' tenure.
All-Time Texas Road Wins Against the AP Top 10
#4 Memphis Jan. 2, 2006 W 69-58
#5 Oklahoma Mar. 8, 2003 W 76-71
$5 Okla. State Jan. 5, 2002 W 70-61
#8 Okla. State Mar. 5, 2005 W 74-73
#10 Houston Jan. 12, 1982 W 95-83
#10 Arkansas Jan. 12, 1979 W 66-63