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WIN OVER MICHIGAN PROVES A SLAM DUNK UCLA (11-0) OFF TO BEST START IN 4 YEARS UCLA 92, MICH. 55.

Byline: JILL PAINTER Staff Writer

UCLA's men's basketball team gave fans an early Christmas gift Saturday, and it had everything but a big red bow on it.

It was an old-fashioned whooping of Michigan. The top-ranked Bruins delivered a 92-55 victory Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 11,876, the largest of the season at Pauley Pavilion.

UCLA (11-0) showed off a stellar defense, a transition offense that worked to perfection and the ability to sink shots from everywhere on the floor -- even at the free-throw line.

Suddenly, that No. 1 ranking seems just about right.

``I think we were really good today,'' UCLA coach Ben Howland said. ``I think we'd beat most teams in the country (Saturday).''

The 37-point margin of victory was the largest in the Howland era. It was UCLA's largest margin of victory since a 105-67 win over Portland in 2002, Steve Lavin's final season as coach.

``Maybe people will give us a little bit more respect,'' said Luc Mbah a Moute, who had 13 points and sevensteals. ``It makes the bull's-eye bigger and bigger.''

Josh Shipp had a game-high 18points on 7-for-10 shooting, Arron Afflalo added 17 and Darren Collison had 15 points and eightassists.

UCLA has been criticized for playing a home schedule with lightweights, and even though the Wolverines were unranked, they figured to give the Bruins a better test than Sam Houston State or Oakland -- or so people thought.

The key was UCLA's double team on 6-foot-10 center Courtney Sims.

Sims was held to two shots and twopoints in the first half and finished with 13 points. UCLA beat Michigan in Ann Arbor with the same game plan last year.

``I was surprised because we did it last year,'' Mbah a Moute said. ``I felt they would be ready for it.''

The real question is: Could anybody have been ready for this type of performance from the recently slow-starting Bruins?

UCLA started the game with an 8-0 run and never looked back.

``Today it seemed like the bottom fell out, in terms of our defense,'' Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. ``Obviously, they had a lot to do with that.''

Michigan had 15 of its 23 turnovers in the first half. UCLA had 12 steals and held the Wolverines to 1-of-10 from 3-point range.

UCLA made 58 percent of its shots, including a season-best 55 percent from 3-point range. The Bruins, who are one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the country, even made 78.9percent of their foul shots.

Collison pressured Michigan's guards and, because of Sims' ineffectiveness, Michigan looked lost.

``To beat us, you know you have to do it for 40 minutes,'' Afflalo said.

Michigan couldn't even do it for 20.

When Howland is asked if he thinks UCLA is truly the No. 1 team, he has a conditioned response, the one about how it will all be decided in April anyway.

If UCLA players have that No. 1 mentality, they're not saying so.

At least for now, they have every reason to feel that way.

``We never feel like we're No. 1,'' Collison said. ``We are so competitive and feel like there's so much more to improve on that we have to go out and prove we can win games.''

They can start that when Pac-10 play opens Thursday.

jill.painter@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3615

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Photo:

Josh Shipp led UCLA with 18 points and made 7 of 10 shots in the Bruins' rout over Michigan on Saturday.

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 24, 2006
Words:588
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