Adding a frosh prince, this battle-tested Bruins team finally may finally find its way to a title
Junior swingman Josh Shipp is painfully aware of the history: If it hadn't been for the once-in-a-generation Florida team that beat UCLA in the past two Final Fours, we might be handicapping the Bruins' chances for a three-peat this season. Instead, the biggest question in Westwood as UCLA plots another title challenge is whether Shipp can overcome an even more painful history -- two serious hip injuries in two seasons -- and fill the perimeter void left by Arron Afflalo's departure to the NBA. "Josh is our leading returning scorer, so he's critical," says Bruins coach Ben Howland. "We can't have a great year without him."
By now Shipp might be better known as Josh Hip. A torn labrum in his right hip caused him to miss almost all of the 2005-06 season, and Shipp spent this past summer recovering from surgery to repair the same injury on his left side. He says he's now healthy, which should allow him to fill the passing lane at full speed when superstar freshman center Kevin Love feeds point guard Darren Collison to start the Bruins' new fast break. Still unclear is whether Shipp will channel Afflalo in the half-court and take the big shots in the final seconds of shot clocks and games. "We all think we can take the big shot," Shipp says. "That's just something that's going to happen over time by playing the games and seeing who falls into that role."
Ultimately those big-shot responsibilities may fall to a committee of Shipp, Love and Collison (and perhaps junior forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute). Yet no matter who takes charge on offense, there aren't many concerns in Bruinland these days. Howland has created a culture in which players seamlessly step into new roles (remember the way Collison took over for Jordan Farmar last season?) and defense continues to be paramount. "If our offensive game isn't clicking, we can always play defense and shut our opponent down," says Shipp. "And if we add that fast-break aspect to it, it'll be that much harder to beat us."
Not for nothing, then, does an unflagging confidence pervade Pauley Pavilion. "We're good enough to win every game," says Collison. "The only team that can beat us is ourselves." -- Grant Wahl
Issue date: November 19, 2007