Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sports: Round Three - UCLA vs. Pittsburgh

Am nervous as heck about the West Regional semi-final match up between UCLA and Pittsburgh. In LA, the stories about the ties between Coach Howland and Coach Dixon fill the papers. It will be UCLA's perimeter players versus Pittsburgh's bigs. It is about two coaches who like defense. We shall see!

Expectations in BruinsNation is way out of control. UCLA's history since the last Wooden-coached championship in 1975 doesn't justify the demands of the fans. To put some numbers on it, in the last 32 years, UCLA has made the Final Four just four times.

Since Wooden, fans have been dreaming of a return to glory. There have been two shining moments prior to Howland that prompted optimism but each time it turned to ashes for fans of the UCLA basketball program shortly afterward.

1980.

Larry Brown arrived on the scene to take over a program in disarray where demanding fans ran out of town two coaches in four years. The Bruins came in 4th in the Pac-10 that year and drew an invitation which many analysts thought was simply because of the name brand. Brown took that starting line-up of 3 freshmen and 2 seniors on a magic carpet ride that ended in the championship game with a narrow defeat to a Denny Crum (former Wooden assistant) coached Louisville.

The following year, 1981, with expectations rising again, the #3 seeded Bruins were ousted in their opening game against BYU and the shooting of Danny Ainge amidst coach Larry Brown's impending departure. Indeed, Brown resigned from UCLA, assistant Larry Farmer took over but the Bruins were hit with probation for NCAA violations and thus no-post season play in 1982.

Bruins in Ruins became the mantra from 1982-1988.
1982 - probation, no-post season
1983 - defeated in the first round to Utah
1984 - didn't make the NCAA and declined an NIT bid, Larry Farmer resigned
1985 - Walt Hazzard took over the coaching duties and got UCLA's only NIT championship
1986 - UCLA lost in the opening round of the NIT to UC Irvine!
1987 - won the first round against Central Michigan then lost in round two to Wyoming
1988 - didn't make the NCAA and Walt Hazzard was fired

Jim Harrick took over coaching at UCLA and became the unlikely receptacle of the hope and dreams of the fans for restoration. However, Harrick, despite fairly successful recruiting, was widely criticized for not being able to win the "big game" as UCLA consistently stumbled early in the NCAA.

1989 - lost in round 2
1990 - lost in the sweet-16
1991 - lost in round 1, victim of Penn State in a 4/13 upset
1992 - lost in the regional finals blown out by Bobby Knight's Indiana
1993 - lost in round 2
1994 - lost in round 1, victim of Tulsa in a 5/12 upset

Then came ...

1995

Edney's end-to-end drive to get the winning basket against Missouri in round 2. A high scoring affair with UConn in the Regional Finals. A knock down drag out with Ok State and Big Country Reeves in the National Semi-finals. And the magical game against Arkansas when Edney tried to play with an injured wrist but it became apparent that he couldn't continue so Cameron Dollar took over at point and Ed O'Bannon and Toby Bailey did the rest with strong contributions from Charles O'Bannon, J.R. Henderson and George Zedek. The 11th banner was put up!

But, in 1996, it was all ashes when UCLA lost to Princeton in arguable one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history. And then 1997 began with promise but a few games into the season Harrick was fired for lying about a recruiting expense report and Steve Lavin took over the team. Mike Gottfried and Lorenzo Romar were Harrick's top assistants on the 1995 championship run so they had since moved on to head coaching jobs of their own leaving Lavin as the senior assistant.

Lavin by all accounts was a decent guy but clearly in over his head.
1997 - lost in the regional semi-finals
1998 - lost in sweet-16
1999 - lost in round 1
2000 - lost in sweet-16
2001 - lost in sweet-16
2002 - lost in sweet-16
2003 - didn't make NCAA and was fired at the end of the season

Ben Howland took over a program that was in a ditch.
2004 - didn't make the NCAA and the fans understood the shelf was empty from the final Lavin years
2005 - UCLA was probably one of the last at-large teams that year and lost in the first round which the fans accepted because these were the last few Lavin recruits and just the first few Howland recruits.
2006 - a magic carpet ride for the Bruins! A victory over Alabama in round 2 that came down to the final possession with Alabama missing the winning shot. The improbable comeback against Gonzaga in the regional semi-finals. The grind it out win over Memphis in the regional finals. The shockingly easy win over LSU in the national semi-finals. The ride ended in defeat at the hands of the Florida Gators.

The Bruins restored?

2006

Will the hope kindled by that incredible run in that incredible year turn to ashes as two other false starts in the return to glory?

2007 - In round 3, UCLA versus Pittsburgh might look like that football game in round 2 versus Indiana.

Expectations are high but fan is short for fanatic and even the love that Coach Howland has won already is fraying and will be sorely tested if the Bruins fall short tonight.

I've been listening to the Bruins on radio all season long. I've seen one game live and a few on TV. They are a solid team but they don't have the talent to blow people out. The Bruins have lost 5 games this season. One was to a speedy team like Oregon (two near losses were to speedy USC). Two were to hot shooting teams in West Virginia and California. Two were to teams with big guys inside (Stanford and Washington). To be honest, they could have lost many more if it were not for their defense that wears people out. Coach Howland deserves a ton of credit for getting this team to play as a team and to be far more than the sum of its parts.

Here's hoping the Bruins will find a way to win tomorrow to survive and advance.

Go Bruins!

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