Burlison: Test of Bruins' Depth

Injuries have sliced UCLA's roster to just eight healthy scholarship players. So, what once appeared to be ample depth for the No. 1-ranked Bruins has been become razor-thin. Will it cost them when they take on Maryland Monday night in Kansas City, or will fellows like Russell Westbrook continue to step in admirably?

Although they're currently ranked No. 1 in the Frankhoops.com Top 25, the UCLA Bruins may not convince anyone they're the best team in the country when they take on Maryland Monday night in Kansas City, and then Michigan State or Missouri the next evening, during the 2007 O'Reilly Auto Parts College Basketball Experience Classic.

 

But they'll certainly have the opportunity to demonstrate just how deep Ben Howland's roster is.

 

That's because pr eseason All-American candidate Darren Collison will remain in street clothes when the Bruins take on the Terps, followed by the Spartans or Tigers, in two contests that should prove immensely more challenging than what they faced in rolling to three victories in Pauley Pavilion during the first five days of their season.

 

Collison, arguably the best point guard in the country, suffered a sprained ligament in his left knee during an exhibition against NAIA power Azusa Pacific on Nov. 2.

 

It was thought that he would be back in action when the team headed to Kansas City but Howland said the decision to keep Collison on the sidelines was reached Wednesday night after Collison tested the knee in a brief workout in Pauley Pavilion.

 

"He was moving pretty good," Howland said Thursday morning. "But he has a brace on the knee and when he tried to push off the leg, he wasn't as explosive as you would want him to be. And (when he returns), we want him to be as effective as he can be. So it was my feeling to ‘err on the side of caution' (by holding him out longer). I'd say that the earliest that he could come back (and play) would be on the 28th (of this month), against George Washington."

 

Howland said that Collison was examined by the school's medical staff after Wednesday night's workout "and the doctor concurred that he should stay out of practice for at least 10 more days."

 

So sophomore Russell Westbrook will remain in the startling lineup and it's hard to find a lot of fault in his performance during the victories over Portland State, Youngstown State and Cal State San Bernardino: 11.0 points, 6.7 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game.

 

And Westbrook, who just turned 19 on Monday, and trimmed his turnovers in each game from six, to three, to one.

 

As a 17-year-old senior at Leuzinger High in the Los Angeles suburb of Lawndale, Westbrook signed with the Bruins in the spring, turning down an offer from Arizona State, in part because it became apparent Jordan Farmar was going to stay in the NBA Draft.

 

"Russell has gotten better and better (so far)," Howland said.

 

The Bruins will also continue to be without two players who were counted on to be significant parts of their rotation in 6-5 junior Mike Roll (who suffered a ruptured plantar fascia his left foot on Nov. 3 and could be sidelined until early December) and 6-8 sophomore James Keefe (who underwent shoulder surgery in late July and may return in early to mid-December).

 

They will have only eight healthy scholarship players in Kansas City.

 

BOUNCING AROUND THE NATION:

*I caught the North Carolina-Davidson game in its entirety Wednesday night.

 

And the Tar Heels (No. 2 in the Frankhoops.com Top 25) and the Wildcats (No. 17) looked every bit like teams that could win a national title and capture a couple of NCAA Tourney games, respectively.

 

And I'm sure sophomore point guard Ty Lawson will bounce back strongly from what was an erratic performance for the Tar Heels Wednesday night (four turnovers, only one assists and two of seven shooting in 21 minutes).

 

His backcourt classmate, Wayne Ellington, was elegant (20 points, on eight of 13 shooting) Wednesday night and looked like a much more complete offensive player than he was as a freshman.

 

*How about Eric Gordon's Indiana debut against Tennessee-Chattanooga Tuesday night?

 

He went for 33 points (on nine of 15 from the field, including seven of 11 on 3's), six rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes.

 

The Hoosiers will play four other games beforehand but it will be awesome watching Gordon going up against one of the best man-to-man defensive clubs in the country when Indiana plays at Southern Illinois on Dec. 1. The Salukis guard people like they don't like to be guarded.

 

*Headline: There is going to be another post-season tournament.

 

Reaction: Why?

 

Hey, I know some teams get unfairly stiffed when it comes to NCAA Tournament at-large bids, or even invites to the National Invitation Tournament.

 

But 113 teams (roughly one-third of all Division I programs) in post-season competition – other than conference tournaments – is over-doing things a bit.

 

A LOOK AT THE WEEKEND ACTION:

SATURDAY

Virginia at No. 13 Arizona

Frank Says: Point guard Sean Singletary carved up the Wildcats last year in Charlottesville. The sledding should be a little tougher in Tucson but he will be playing mostly against a freshman – albeit a very good one – in Jerryd Bayless.

 

USC at South Carolina

Frank Says: The Gamecocks knocked off the Trojans in their Galen Center debut a year ago. The visitors from Los Angeles aren't nearly the team they were ago last March, via the departure of Nick Young, Gabe Pruitt and Lodrick Stewart. Despite an embarrassing loss at home to Mercer to open their season, the Trojans will ultimately evolve into a team that will threaten for a upper-division finish in the Pac-10.

 

Rutgers at Florida

Frank Says: The Gators' frosh- and soph-dominated squad has cruised to three wins but should get something approaching a real "test" against Rutgers, which has beaten the same three opponents, only by not quite as large of margins.

 

SUNDAY

Bucknell at Villanova

Frank Says: The Bison are off to a 2-0 start and should provide a stern challenge for Jay Wright's Wildcats, who cruised in their opener with Stony Brook.



Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com


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