Can Baynes stay out of trouble with Love?

PULLMAN - Experience was regarded as one of Washington State's greatest assets coming into the season. In the Year of the Freshman, however, the Cougs have no impact rookies and their upper classmen have taken a backseat to youth in a handful of recent games. Now the Cougs must try to halt their two-game losing skid against a pair of red-hot teams led by two of the premier freshmen in the nation.

UCLA center Kevin Love and USC guard O.J. Mayo, who seem determined to make their first college season their last, play before sellout crowds at Friel Court this week. FSN televises the UCLA contest at 7:30 p.m. Thursday; ABC televises the USC game at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.


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Love is a man-child, a 6-foot-10, 270-pound center with a slab of cement for a chest and a shooting touch as soft as a baby's bottom. The Bruins are ranked fifth in the country and lead the Pac-10 -- arguably the country's best college conference -- but Love easily leads UCLA with 17.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.

"The thing that's so impressive about him is how complete he is," WSU forward Daven Harmeling said after practice Tuesday. "He can back you down, give you a bunch of moves, pump fake, he can to the line and convert, but at the same time, he can stretch you to the perimeter."

Love is coming off a 26-point, 11-rebound effort in a rout of an Arizona team that thumped WSU 76-64 two weeks ago. Last month, Love led UCLA against Washington State with 27 points and 14 rebounds -- starting his current string of six consecutive double-doubles -- in an 81-74 decision that spoiled WSU's 14-0 start.

Love poses special problems for WSU because of the relatively limited mobility of muscular center Aron Baynes. Love has nailed 13 3-pointers this season -- he was 2 for 3 against the Cougars -- and Baynes has enough problems avoiding foul trouble without chasing Love all over the Palouse.

Asked how he can keep Baynes on the court and out of foul trouble, WSU coach Tony Bennett deadpanned, "Great question. I'll let you know when I figure it out."

The Bruins (20-2, 8-1 Pac-10) have won four in a row, winning by an average score of 83-62. The 17th-ranked Cougars (17-4, 5-4), who have lost three of their last four games to slip into a tie for third place, have scored in the 80's only once this season -- and that came way back on Nov. 13, when WSU rang up 86 points on Boise State in the second game of the season.

That said, the Cougars' offense was never more impressive than in the final two minutes of the UCLA game, when they drained seven straight 3-pointers. That made the score respectable, but WSU never recovered from the Bruins' 16-4 run to open the game.

"I'd be shocked if that (quick start) was replicated," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We just don't want it replicated on us."

Love is one of four Bruins averaging 12 or more points per game, and guards Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison have an edge in quickness over WSU's backcourt. Howland offered high praise for Cougar guards Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low.

"Two of the best guards not only in the conference, but the country," Howland said.

UCLA starting forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is out with a sprained ankle, but WSU is coming off close losses to California and Stanford squads that also were missing a key starter.

Mayo, the nation's No. 1 recruit last year, averages 20.1 points (second in the Pac-10 behind Cal's Ryan Anderson) and a league-leading 36 ½ minutes played per game.

"He's one of the best players in the country," Howland said.

"He's been more than I expected," USC coach Tim Floyd said. "He's the best college player I've coached. I think it's incredible, the type of year he's had as a freshman."

The 6-5 Mayo racked up 22 points and seven rebounds against WSU in January. He also had a game-high five turnovers, however, and the Cougars won handily, 73-58.

"He's as coachable as any player I've ever coached, he's as competitive as any player I've ever coached and he's as skilled as any player I've ever coached," Floyd said. "I think he's destined to have a tremendous NBA career."

The ultra-young, ultra-athletic Trojans (14-7, 5-4 Pac-10) have won five of six after an 0-3 start in league play. Freshmen and sophomores account for 96 percent of USC's points. Mayo and fellow freshman Davon Jefferson (12.8) rank 1-2 in scoring, but the 6-8 Jefferson was in Floyd's doghouse and did not play in the first meeting with WSU.

• WSU is 1-69 all time against top-five teams. The lone win came against No. 4 Oregon State in 1980. … WSU is 13-92 all time against UCLA, with seven straight losses. The Bruins are the only Pac-10 team WSU's seniors have not beaten … The Cougars are 0-14 at home against UCLA (counting two games in Spokane) since winning in 1993 …

• When ranked, WSU is 5-8 against ranked teams, including 2-2 this season. Five of the losses came against UCLA. … Weaver needs 15 points to become the 29th Cougar with 1,000 career points. … Low ranks 18th in school history with 1,086 points, five ahead of Thomas Kelati and 64 behind Steve Harriel …

• The Cougars this week dropped to 20th in the RPI. Washington State trails Arizona (seventh), UCLA (10th) and Stanford (18th) in the RPI. Arizona hasn't cracked either Top 25 poll in a month.

• WSU point guard Taylor Rochestie has 47 assists and eight turnovers in nine conference games. … USC forward Taj Gibson is shooting 73 percent from the field (58 for 80) over the past 11 games. … UCLA ranks third in the nation with an average rebounding edge of 10.6. Mbah a Moute is UCLA's No. 2 rebounder at 5.1. • Kevin Love has 13 double-doubles this season. WSU has three -- one each for Baynes, Weaver and Robbie Cowgill. … Love's father, Stan, starred at Oregon and played in the NBA. Love's uncle, Mike, is lead singer of the Beach Boys. … Love was Oregon's prep player of the year the past three seasons at Lake Oswego High School. Maybe he should have made it four straight: As a freshman, he averaged 20.8 points, 13.4 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, 2.9 assists and 1.9 steals.

• The Cougars average 8,909 fans per game in Pullman, an increase of nearly 3,000 from this point last year. Counting Stanford, all but one of the last six home games has sold out; tickets are still available for the Thursday, Feb. 21 contest with Arizona State (6 p.m., FSN).

• Three of the top four and four of the top seven Pac-10 scorers are freshmen. Three sophomores, one junior and two seniors round out the top 10.

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