UCLA may have a talented group of freshman ready to contribute, but its seniors could be the ones to maintain the program's recent run of success.
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Paced by veterans Darren Collison and Josh Shipp, the No. 4 Bruins look for a fifth consecutive victory over Michigan on Thursday night in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer at Madison Square Garden.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made UCLA –11.5 point spread favorites (NCAAB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at X (View Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 64% of bets for this game have been placed on UCLA –11.5 (View NCAAB Bet Percentages).
The senior pair each scored 16 points to help UCLA (2-0) hold on for a 64-59 win over Miami (Ohio) last Thursday to advance to the tournament's semifinals. Michigan (2-0) won 76-56 over Northeastern at home on Nov. 12 to set up the matchup with the Bruins.
"Definitely a game that we have to prove ourselves," Michigan sophomore guard Manny Harris said of facing UCLA. "I call it a confidence game."
The winner of this contest will face either No. 10 Duke or Southern Illinois in the finals Friday night at MSG.
The Bruins didn't have an easy time remaining on that road to a possible early season tournament title. Collison, the preseason All-American guard and team leader averaging 17.5 points and 3.5 assists per game, made two free throws with 21 seconds remaining to put away the methodical RedHawks.
"This was like an NCAA tournament game,'' Collison said. "That's a very good team. It came down to valuing our possessions. We took good shots at the end.''
Collison was 6-for-11 from the field and Shipp 6-for-14 as the veterans of three consecutive national semifinal appearances were the only Bruins in double figures.
"We want to do whatever it takes; (Thursday) it was scoring,'' said Shipp, averaging 12.5 points. "Me and Darren want to take over games.''
Fellow senior Alfred Aboya also hit a pair of key free throws down the stretch for UCLA, which starts highly-touted freshman guard Jrue Holiday and has already seen contributions from other first-year players Malcolm Lee and 6-foot-8 Drew Gordon.
Though traditionally one of the nation best defensive programs, the Bruins might not find themselves in a half-court game against Michigan, which is averaging 76.5 points through its first two games, almost 14 more than it averaged going 10-22 in 2007-08.
UCLA is 11-3 all-time versus Michigan, including a 69-54 win over the Wolverines last season where Shipp had 19 points. The forward is averaging 14.0 points in three games against Michigan.
Harris had 26 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against Northeastern as Michigan shot 53.5 percent. The second-team All-Big Ten pick last season scored 30 on 10-for-15 shooting with seven rebounds in a season-opening victory over Michigan Tech.
"It was a pretty good two days for him, that's for sure," Michigan coach John Beilein said of Harris. "We are trying to give him better opportunities to see the floor, to rebound, to do everything."
DeShawn Sims added 19 points and seven rebounds against Northeastern. Harris and Sims combined for 23 points in last season's loss to the Bruins.
Michigan will be making its first trip to Madison Square Garden since losing 76-74 to South Carolina in the finals of the 2006 Preseason NIT.