UCLA Has Stability, Depth for First Time In Years
Nov. 9, 2001
By BETH HARRIS
AP Sports Writer
The buzz is back in Westwood.
UCLA returns all but one starter from last season's team, making the Bruinsoverwhelming favorites to win the Pac-10 Conference title.
After the recent early departures of Baron Davis, Jerome Moiso and JaRonRush to the NBA draft, the fifth-ranked Bruins possess a stability and depththey haven't had in years.
Only four-year starter Earl Watson is gone from a team that went 23-9 lastseason and lost to eventual national champion Duke in the NCAA tournament'sround of 16.
'In the past, we always had the camaraderie, but we all weren't sure wherewe wanted to go,' junior Jason Kapono said. 'This year, we know with thetalent we have and the senior leadership, there's no reason why we shouldn'twin something.'
Kapono (17.2 points) and senior Dan Gadzuric (11.7 points and 8.6 rebounds)toyed with declaring for the draft, but decided to stay since neither haswon so much as a tournament title during their time in Westwood.
UCLA won its last conference title five years ago, which was Steve Lavin'sfirst season as coach after he replaced the fired Jim Harrick.
'I didn't want to be known as the guy who came here and played two years andnever won a Pac-10 title,' Kapono said. 'I feel so good about this team.'
The biggest questions for the Bruins are how well freshman point guardCedric Bozeman can fill Watson's shoes and whether Gadzuric's arthriticknees will hold up.
'I feel fit and I'm ready to play every day,' Gadzuric said. 'This is mylast year and I want to prove something.'
The door is open wider this season because three-time defending Pac-10champion Stanford isn't as big or talented, and Arizona is rebuilding afterlosing four starters and nine lettermen.
Southern California has high hopes, too. Coming off their regional finalappearance, the 20th-ranked Trojans return leading scorer and rebounder SamClancy, point guard Brandon Granville and forward David Bluthenthal.
Junior Casey Jacobsen, voted to The Associated Press preseason All-Americateam, is the only returning starter for No. 13 Stanford.
Jacobsen, who averaged 18.1 points, will be surrounded by youngsters, who'lldepend on his scoring more than the first two seasons he led the team.
'We're finally going to get to play the role of underdog,' Jacobsen said.'We're not going to have so much expectation. That might actually motivateus. We've beaten a lot of teams by 30 and that's not going to happen thisyear. We are looked at as defeatable now.'
A key for the Cardinal will be 7-foot junior Curtis Borchardt, who hasmissed parts of his first two seasons because of foot injuries. Borchardthas added 40 pounds to last season's 240, and the Cardinal will need him toprovide an inside presence.
'I'm finding myself frustrated. Losing four starters is significant,'Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said. 'Our confidence could be shaken early.I see a lot of teams chomping at the bit to get a piece of us and Arizona.'
Since losing to Duke in the NCAA title game, the Wildcats will lookdrastically different. Coach Lute Olson has five freshmen, including 5-10guard Will Bynum from Chicago.
It'll be up to point guard Jason Gardner to run the team. He nearly decidedto leave early but stayed, and Olson has to be grateful.
Arizona's schedule, made before the defections, is brutal, with Maryland,Kansas, Illinois, Purdue and Michigan State among the early opponents.
'We have no clue at this time as to how we'll be,' Olson said. 'It alldepends on the day.'
After a 12-year absence, the Pac-10 postseason tournament returns. The topeight teams will qualify for the three-day event at Staples Center in LosAngeles, with the winner earning the conference's automatic berth to theNCAA tournament.
The Western Athletic Conference seemingly belongs to Fresno State, thedefending regular-season champion trying to get coach Jerry Tarkanian backto the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs need to find a new point guard since WAC freshman of the yearTito Maddox was kicked off the team in August for accepting gifts from anagent. But Melvin Ely, last season's WAC player of the year, and ChrisJefferies will anchor a formidable frontcourt.
The WAC adds Boise State and Louisiana Tech, while Texas Christian dropsout.
In the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga will try to make its fourthconsecutive appearance in the NCAA final 16. The Bulldogs, who've won atleast 24 games each of the past four seasons, feature the conference's twobest guards in Dan Dickau and Blake Stepp.
Wyoming returns its entire starting lineup in a bid for the Mountain WestConference title. The Cowboys tied for the regular-season championship withBrigham Young and Utah last season.
Utah coach Rick Majerus is back after health problems forced him out lastseason. Without him, the Utes missed the NCAA tournament for the first timein seven years.
Changes are afoot in the Big West Conference, with Cal State Northridgecoming over from the Big Sky and UC Riverside joining from Division II.Boise State left for the WAC.
For the first time in three seasons, a team other than Utah State willlikely be the Big West champion. The Aggies lost four of five starters froma team that won consecutive titles.
UC Irvine is coming off its best season (25-5) and has guard Jerry Green,last season's player of the year, running the offense.