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March 12, 2009
If UCLA expects to repeat as Pac-10 Conference tournament champion, it's going to need Darren Collison in the lineup.
The 15th-ranked and second-seeded Bruins should have their injured All-American guard on the floor Thursday night while trying to avenge a recent loss to No. 7 seed Washington State in the quarterfinals at Staples Center.
Collison, who averages a team-leading 14.8 points, is listed as probable for this contest after he bruised his tailbone in UCLA's 94-68 win over Oregon on Saturday. An MRI and X-rays showed no damage, meaning the senior is likely to be on the floor - at least for the tournament opener.
"The trainer says it's just a bruise," Bruins coach Ben Howland said.
Collison was named MVP of last season's Pac-10 tournament after he scored 28 points in UCLA's 67-64 win over Stanford in the championship game. He had 19 against Oregon as the Bruins (24-7) shot 56.9 percent to win their fourth straight contest after losing 82-81 at home to Washington State on Feb. 21.
Collison tallied 20 points and had eight assists against the Cougars, who snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Bruins. UCLA won 61-59 at Washington State on Jan. 22.
The Cougars (17-14) beat Oregon 62-40 in Thursday's first-round play. This is the second time these schools will meet in the Pac-10 tournament as Washington State beat UCLA 73-71 in 1988.
UCLA, though, is trying for its third league tournament title in four years despite failing to win the league's regular-season conference crown for the first time in four seasons.
The Bruins are playing well enough to challenge No. 1 seed Washington this week, but will need a healthy Collison and some continued strong play from fellow senior Josh Shipp to do so.
Shipp scored a career-high 28 points Saturday for the Bruins, who are shooting 52.3 percent and averaging 80.3 points in their last four games.
"I definitely think it's a good time to get hot," said Shipp, who is averaging 14.4 points this season and 22.8 in his last four contests. "It's tourney time, time to bring your 'A' game."
Shipp hopes to live up to his own words despite averaging just 9.6 points in eight career games against the Cougars.
UCLA should expect another challenge from Washington State, which leads the nation allowing 54.7 points per contest and has won four of its last five games since a 2-7 stretch.
Leading scorer Taylor Rochestie scored a career-high 33 points in last month's win over UCLA. The senior scored 14 of the Cougars' final 16 points to give them their first victory over the Bruins since a 55-48 road win on Feb. 5, 2004.
"He's a fifth-year senior that nobody wanted," Howland said of the 6-foot-1 Rochestie, who is averaging 13.3 points. "He's a great story. I got a lot of respect for that kid. He's a great competitor."
Aron Baynes had 20 points Thursday for Washington State, which shot 58.1 percent - well above its season average of 44 percent.
The winner of this contest plays either California or USC in Friday night's semifinals.