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BRUINS WANT COLLISON TO GET INTO THE ZONE BUT WHETHER HE PLAYS TODAY IS QUESTIONABLE.

Byline: BRIAN DOHN

Staff Writer

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - UCLA point guard Darren Collison is quick enough to beat defenders off the dribble, a consistent enough shooter to make open jumpers and possesses the vision to pass the ball in traffic.

And as Bruins coach Ben Howland puts it, Collison should be great against a zone defense, which continues to give UCLA more trouble than it should.

The next test comes today when No. 2 UCLA meets zone-oriented West Virginia at the WVU Coliseum, but whether Collison can break it down is a two-part question.

First, Collison seems to go into funks sometimes against zones. Second, and more important inthis instance, he is a game-time decision because of an injured left shoulder. He did not practice Thursday or Friday.

"That puts us at a disadvantage, obviously, if he can't play," Howland said. "He's getting treatment with our trainer so we'll just have to wait and see. He could not lift his arm above his shoulder (Wednesday) morning."

Collison suffered a sprained AC joint in Wednesday's win against USC, but Howland said it was not known exactly when the injury occured.

If Collison can't play, freshman Russell Westbrook will start, and leading scorer and off-guard Arron Afflalo will be the backup. With this being a non-conference game, and Pacific-10 Conference games at Arizona State and Arizona looming next week, there could be an inclination to hold Collison out.

"We're going to see how it feels, but if he's going to miss a game, it's going to be this game as opposed to a Pac-10 game," Howland said. "It will be just like Josh (Shipp's) injury or Luc (Richard Mbah a Moute's) injury. We're going to err of the side of caution on this."

Westbrook does not defend as well as Collison, but in spurts has shown the ability to attack a zone.

When the Trojans used a 2-3 zone in the first half, Westbrook's ability to penetrate the zone, jump-stop and either dish to an open man or make a jumper was on display. It led to eight straight points for UCLA (21-2), and represented one of the few times the Bruins found offensive rhythm.

"We have to be more consistent when we're playing against a 2-3 zone," Collison said. "Right now we have to look for ways to be more consistent, and keep working at it and working at it."

The Mountaineers (18-5) play a mixture of 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones, as well as a soft man-to-man, switching defense.

"Some nights we'll execute and play well, and some nights we can't seem to figure it out," Afflalo said. "Right now, we have one guy who can consistently get (in the zone) and make plays, and that's Darren. And Russell does a great job with his minutes, so maybe that's a guy we need to utilize a little more.

"I seem to be the guy holding us back when it comes to zone. It just takes everybody to get in there and apply a little effort to make plays for others."

As UCLA continues to be schizophrenic against zones, teams ill-equipped to deal with the Bruins' perimeter talent will likely implement that style of defense.

"A lot of times what we have problems with is that we get too perimeter-oriented," Howland said. "You have to get the ball inside, whether it's man or zone. You've got to get the ball inside either at the low post or the high post to get the defense to react and collapse, and then you kick it back out."

Part of the problem is UCLA seems to have a lack of confidence in going to centers Lorenzo Mata and Alfred Aboya.

Another problem is the Bruins' outside shooting.

Although Collison (49.3 percent) and Afflalo (39.2 percent) are above average when it comes to shooting the 3-pointer, wings Josh Shipp (29.3 percent/ 17.1 percent in Pac-10) and Michael Roll (31.7 percent in Pac-10) have not provided the consistent third option from the perimeter.

"Darren should be one of the best guys in the country at being able to dribble, penetrate gaps, get in there and then stop and slow down," Howland said. "As he gets better and better at it, it sure makes us better. There's no reason he can't get in there. It's just a matter of him thinking about it."

brian.dohn@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

(color) UCLA's Darren Collison should be great against West Virginia's zone defense, but is a game-time decision because of an injury.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

Box:

NO. 2 UCLA vs. WEST VIRGINIA

-- Brian Dohn
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 10, 2007
Words:775
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