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Something's Bruin Instilling his trademark toughness, coach Ben Howland is beginning to turn UCLA around


Ben Howland may be a blue-collar guy in a red-carpet town, but he
has UCLA in the pink again. Having arrived last spring from
Pittsburgh preaching defense, rebounding and toughness, the
Bruins' new coach got his team off to its best conference start
(5-0) since 1995-96 before running into a buzz saw as UCLA lost
to No. 14 Arizona 97-72 at Pauley Pavilion last Saturday. While
Stanford is all the rage in the Pac-10, what Howland has
accomplished--turning around a once-vaunted program that sank to
10-19 under Steve Lavin last season--is almost as noteworthy.
"They've always had talent," says Arizona State coach Rob Evans,
whose team lost 66-58 to the Bruins at Pauley last Thursday. "Ben
has them playing a lot harder defensively, and he has them
playing smart."

UCLA started the season shorthanded but got a boost in
mid-December when 6'7" freshman forward Trevor Ariza (collapsed
lung) and 6'9" senior forward T.J. Cummings (academic suspension)
joined the lineup; at week's end Ariza was averaging 13.7 points
and Cummings 13.3. Their arrival enabled Howland to move his
leading scorer, 6'7" junior forward Dijon Thompson (14.6), to
shooting guard, giving the Bruins a starting five composed of
players 6'6" and above.

Howland has stressed that the two perennially dominant teams in
the Pac-10, Arizona and Stanford, have also led in his two
favorite statistical categories: rebounding margin and
field-goal-percentage defense. UCLA was sixth in both last
season, but through Sunday the Bruins ranked second to the
Cardinal in each, having outrebounded foes by 6.2 boards a game
and held them to 39.9% shooting. "It takes time to develop a
mentality of toughness," Howland says, "but so far the guys have
done a great job buying in."

They are laying a foundation for even greater improvement next
season, when four stellar recruits, headed by Jordan Farmar, a
commanding 6'2" point guard from Taft High in Woodland Hills,
Calif., arrive in Westwood. After the loss to Arizona, Howland
said, "The best news I had all day was seeing that our four
recruits scored 46, 43, 33 and 27 points yesterday." --Seth Davis

COLOR PHOTO: TONY DONALDSON/ICON SMI NEW WEAPON Since recovering from a collapsed lung, Ariza, afreshman, has become the Bruins' No. 2 scorer.