Tyus Edney's heir has the touch of a guy wearing boxing gloves. Ed O'Bannon's place in the starting lineup has been taken by a 6-foot-5 swingman who tipped the scales at 265 pounds last summer. The freshman who replaced George Zidek recently had 26 points, 16 rebounds and 10 blocked shots -- over five games.
During the past 19 years, no defending champion has advanced past the second round of the NCAA tournament after losing three starters, but despite that sometimes shaky shuffle of personnel, don't bet against UCLA getting to the Sweet 16.
Utah is being touted as a No. 2 seed and Arizona also has a higher national ranking than No. 17 UCLA, but the up-and-down Bruins are still the scariest team out West.
Arizona has nonconference wins over Arkansas, Michigan and Georgetown and its first win at Arizona State in three years, but the Wildcats no longer have Joe Blair in the middle, and UCLA took a two-game lead in the Pac-10 on its road trip to the Bay area, which began with a 73-65 victory at Cal last night.
"Let's just say it's been a challenging year," said Cameron Dollar, the junior point guard from Atlanta who prepped a year at St. John's Prospect Hall in Frederick.
Dollar starred in the NCAA title-game win over Arkansas in place of Edney, who had a sprained wrist, but hand injuries have limited his effectiveness this season. He dislocated his left pinkie in the Blue-Gold intrasquad game, and suffered a dislocation and chipped bone in his right pinkie in a December loss at Kansas.
Since then, Toby Bailey has started at the point, and shifted to the two or three spot when Dollar has begun his 25- or 30-minute stint. Bailey, another standout in the NCAA final, is the Bruins' leading scorer, but he's also second in assists, behind Dollar.
"We haven't been going to Bailey a lot for his shot," coach Jim Harrick said. "He reminds me of that every day."
The other guard is sophomore Kris Johnson, son of former UCLA star Marques Johnson. He pouted through an injury-riddled freshman season and his weight ballooned, but a month last summer with his mother in Atlanta altered his diet and training regimen. He weighs 220 now, and has averaged 18 points the past month.
Forwards Charles O'Bannon and J. R. Henderson have played consistently, but center Jelani McCoy is experiencing the February doldrums that hit so many freshmen.
McCoy had the first triple double in school history in the Bruins' most notable win of the season, a 73-63 defeat of Maryland on Dec. 11, but he didn't have a single rebound in a Jan. 27 home loss to Louisville.
Dollar was not worried about the defending champions being a marked team.
"What's new about that?" Dollar said. "Even before we won the national championship, we were a marked team. Every time I've stepped on the court here, it's been the other team's Super Bowl."
Every game counts
UCLA's NCAA record of 50 consecutive conference wins will be topped by Penn if the Quakers can survive a road trip in the Ivy League.
The four-game swing begins tonight at Dartmouth, where Penn can claim its 49th straight victim in the Ivy League. The Quakers are at Harvard tomorrow, and they could get the NCAA record next Friday at Yale.
Fran Dunphy lost all five starters from the team that took Alabama and Antonio McDyess into overtime in the first round of the NCAAs at the Arena. The Quakers began the new year with a 1-5 record, the lone win coming at Towson State, but the new faces have owned their first five foes in the Ivy League.
"We knew a guy like Donald Moxley had the ability," Dunphy said of a senior guard who's one of three Quakers averaging in double figures. "For three years, he was behind Jerome Allen, who's in the NBA [Minnesota], and Matt Maloney, who's in the CBA and may get to the NBA himself."
Dunphy said he doesn't mention the streak to his players, but their focus is helped by the lack of a postseason tournament in the Ivy League. The regular-season champion goes to the NCAA tournament, and the Quakers have been ready for every league game since March 6, 1992, when they lost to Columbia.
As certain as Massachusetts being the No. 1 seed in the East if it remains unbeaten, look for Kentucky to be No. 1 in the Midwest. The Wildcats can't stay in the Southeast, since that regional will be played in Rupp Arena, or the West, which falls on the same days as the Southeast. Kentucky goes for its 20th straight win Sunday against Arkansas.
For the second straight year, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference was dreaming of getting a second bid to the NCAAs, but Iona's 15-2 start was marred by Canisius on Sunday. Only the MAAC tournament champion is likely to go now. The surprise team has been Loyola, which is in second place heading into the weekend.
Adonal Foyle, who suffered a second-degree concussion Saturday against Siena, did not accompany Colgate to Holy Cross on Wednesday night. In the absence of the 6-10 sophomore center, the Crusaders scored 23 baskets in the paint in their five-point victory over the Patriot League favorites. Foyle has been cleared to play against Lehigh tomorrow, and all of the cobwebs should be gone for next Wednesday's visit from Navy.
State Rating Percentage Indexes entering this week: Maryland, No. 24; Mount St. Mary's, 112; Towson State, 158; Loyola, 186; Coppin State, 188; Navy, 229; Morgan State, 261; UMES, 272; UMBC, 298.