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Arizona faces test in UCLA

Two weeks ago, Arizona coach Lute Olson seemed miffed at the media for ranking his young team so high.

The gall of it all.

"Right now, in my opinion, we're not in the Top 40," he said then. "To rate us in the Top 10 is an absolute joke. We're not anywhere close to that. From the tapes I've seen, I think we're fifth in the Pac-10."

Calculated remarks to make sure his players didn't believe they had arrived already as a title contender? Maybe.

A candid appraisal? Possibly.

Regardless of the motivation, folks will have a chance to judge No. 6 Arizona (8-0) as it faces its sternest test to date in today's conference opener at No. 10 UCLA (8-2).

"We have had a countdown to the Pac-10 season all season long, and our goal has been to make progress every game," Olson said. "Now that we are at that point, we can't go out there and be too uptight."

Olson, however, might have to guard against overconfidence. (Go back to the theory that his were calculated remarks.) The Bruins hardly will be at full strength. Freshman C Dan Gadzuric continues to fight tendinitis, freshman F Matt Barnes is nursing knee and ankle injuries that could keep him on the bench and F JaRon Rush (11.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg) was suspended for the game. Rush was so homesickthat he stayed in Kansas City for Christmas and missed a pair of practices and a game and didn't return until Wednesday.

"Obviously, the Arizona game is the biggest game of the year for our program, so we would love to have (Rush) suit up," UCLA coach Steve Lavin said. "But he has to be accountable for his action."

But Olson points out _ for the benefit of his players? _ that freshman C Jerome Moiso has been outplaying the more highly touted Gadzuric, and G Baron Davis is back from reconstructive knee surgery, giving the Bruins a dangerous backcourt pair.

"Davis and (Earl) Watson create a lot of problems for people off the dribble," Olson said. "They are both good penetraters, and Watson has been shooting the three well, too."

SUPPLY AND DEMAND: In what might be a preview of the ACC tournament title game or even the NCAA final, No. 2 Duke meets No. 4 Maryland on Sunday. The game, broadcast on ESPN2 and WDAE-AM 1250 at 1:30 p.m., is such a hot ticket in College Park, Md., that scalpers are getting as much as $1,000.

The face value is $23.

RUMOR MILL: Steve Alford, the former Indiana star guard and coach at Southwest Missouri State, is being mentioned as a candidate for Iowa, which has decided to dump Tom Davis after this, his 13th season.

"It seems like every year there's something that my name is associated with," said Alford, who has been rumored as the likely successor to IU's Bob Knight.

Alford said he has not been contacted by an Iowa official.

STOP THE MADNESS: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the season begins far too early. (The NABC Classic, which featured Indiana, Seton Hall, South Carolina and Valparaiso, was Nov. 7-8.)

"I think to start earlier than the weekend of Thanksgiving is too much," said Krzyzewski, the president of the coaches' association. "It makes for a very, very long season. I think we'd be much better off practicing and having exhibition games, and instead of giving our kids one day off, (give them) two days off a week for that first month of practice and easing into the season more."

ODDS AND ENDS: Clemson looks to win for the first time at North Carolina today. Of the 310 teams in Division I-A, only Connecticut, Cincinnati, Arizona and Auburn remain unbeaten.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.