So Much To Love

By Josh Herwitt - January 25, 2008

Kevin Love knew that it wasn't going to be easy returning home to play in his old stopping grounds.

And the Lake Oswego, Ore., native knew that it was going to be even tougher playing against his father's alma mater with friends and family looking on.

But after the way the 6-foot-10 forward played in UCLA's 80-75 victory over Oregon Thursday night, what's not to love about Love now?

Because with a game-high 26 points and 18 rebounds, is there anyone in the country who could play better than that under those circumstances?

I think not.

"What more can you ask for?'' teammate Darren Collison asked afterward about Love.

He's right. What more could you ask for?

Well, nothing really.

Not when you shoot 8-for-11 from the floor, 2-for-2 from three and commit only one turnover in 35 minutes of action. Not when you take your team on your back in a hostile environment and lead them to a second-half comeback with signs reading "Kevin Love Sellout.''

"He's not an average freshman," Collison continued. "He plays like a senior. He gutted it out."

For Oregon fans, however, there was plenty to hate.

"All of my family and friends were here, and all the people who hate me for not going to Oregon were here," Love offered. "It was a pretty good atmosphere."

It's an atmosphere that he thrives on. It's an atmosphere that he's become used to after playing in three straight high school championship games over the last three years.

So forget about Pac-10 Freshman of the Year -- let's start talking about National Player of the Year.

Sounds a little crazy, huh?

Not to UCLA coach Ben Howland, not to the rest of Love's teammates and not to even his opponents.

"He is very skilled," affirmed Oregon center Marty Leunen, who went toe-to-toe with Love before finishing with 16 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals. "He understands the game very well."

"He is just a load down there," Ducks shooting guard Bryce Taylor added. "He crashes the boards like crazy."

Sure, Tyler Hansbrough, Michael Beasley and Eric Gordon have put up some huge numbers over the past week, but lurking out west is Love, and in case you thought he couldn't play any better than his 27-point, 14-rebound performance against then-No. 4 Washington State, well, he did in one of the hardest places to play in the country and arguably the hardest place to play in the Pac-10.

"Crowds are going to try and get in players' heads as much as possible and that's what they tried to do,'' Love explained. "We just came out with a win in a very tough place to play."

"It's one of the toughest environments in the country so I knew it'd be tough for him,'' Howland maintained. "But I felt he handled the pressure very well. Overall he was very poised.''

But even more than just Thursday night's performance is the fact that Love plays within the offense and wants the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.

And you don't have to be a college basketball expert to know that there's not too many players, let alone freshmen, that are like that.

Because when it comes down to it, UCLA, who was hampered by injuries to starters Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Lorenzo Mata-Real against the Ducks, will only go as far as Love can take it.

For now, though, the Bruins are just happy to be headed back to Westwood standing in first place in the Pac-10 and a win at Oregon already in their back pockets.

"This was one of the best wins I've been a part of in 27 years in this business," Howland confessed. "It was a great game, a great win."

For Love, it was just another day at the office.

Posted by Josh Herwitt at 08:49 AM on January 25, 2008

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