Tag Archives: Ben Howland

Steve Alford is no April Fools

I love the Steve Alford hire.

I’m watching the Kevin Ware injury on repeat.

I have little interest in what Aaron Gordon has to say tomorrow.

It was about time to get the Oregon cheerleaders off TV.

I will not miss this college basketball season.

APRIL FOOLS!

Are you kidding me!? Steve Alford was a fallback hire and I will not watch the Ware thing once. If Aaron Gordon says what I think and hope he’ll say dancing will ensue and preferably with an Oregon cheerleader. There are just three games left 🙁

But I really want to dig into this Alford hire.

It came across my ESPN ScoreCenter push notifications at something like 8:50am Saturday on my way to a pickup hoops game. I was driving alone and immediately didn’t know what to do. I headed to social media, quickly, and then to Wikipedia. The Alford page already mentioned UCLA.

Hadn’t he just signed a 10-year deal in Albuquerque?

Alas, Dan Guerrero and Bruins Nation have their man. He has to be. Westwood’s newest coach:

  • 4 Tournament wins in 18 seasons as HC
  • .589 win percentage at High Major Iowa
  • 7 NCAA appearances
  • 3 4* recruits while at UNM
  • Avg AdjT ranking of 181st
  • 1 Sweet Sixteen
  • 0 Final Fours

But I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt here. He’s signed, sealed, and delivered and it’s going to be his show. BruinsNation must withhold their vitriol for a minimum three-seasons. In my opinion, at least.

The Howland firing was universally accepted as a necessary change. It doesn’t always look right on paper but a break was necessary. A lot like your college girlfriend.

Alford doesn’t fit all the buzz words like “winning the press conference” or “home run hire” but he does offer a new regime in Westwood which is what the Bruins had coming to them. And while some will tell you that he was hired in desperation, that Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens’ declining led Guerrero to jump on the first available “yes”, I’m not buying it. Who’s to say he hadn’t been in the Pitino and Donovan camps for weeks? Why wouldn’t he have been? You fire the Head Coach of the conference champ and you knew you were going to do this for awhile. Phone calls were made. Interests were felt out. Guerrero had at least an idea of which trees to bark up and at a certain juncture he barked up the Alford tree and here we are.

Change for the sake of change.

Whether he’s a good fit or a successful hire will ultimately boil down to how he fills the left column. History suggests he might struggle to do so.

I say give it time. This hire can can hold the promise of spring after a cold winter.

And it sure ain’t April Fools.

How to Survive Your Coaching Hunt

The coaching rumors have begun. From grumblings of Josh Pastner and Jamie Dixon, to Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens, this is the most browser refreshing time of year.

I for one, am not jealous of those programs in the hunt. As a fan, this is the most exhausting thing and something I’ve endured far too heavily in the past decade. After all, it was my Arizona Wildcats that allowed Nic Wise to become the first and only power conference player to have four different coaches (Olson, O’Neill, Pennell, Miller) in four years. Who wants that distinction?

And then of course there was the Miller-to-Maryland threat which was one of the worst 48-hour periods of my life. There’s something to be said about stability and comfort and as it stands today – with regards to the current hunts – Dixon and Pastner have let their signatures do the talking. Each has signed extensions with their current employers ensuring they won’t go anywhere. Or something like that.

But again, take it from me, these things are awful. They’re draining and exhausting and exhilarating and terrifying. They’re a time suck and will drive you insane all to wind up with a guy who you’ll barely see in action for another half-year (#IsItNovermberYet).

Alas, here is a guide to surviving your coaching hunt:

  1. Don’t Hate – Unless the outgoing guy is leaving your program in NCAA shambles, he’s really not as bad as you think. Look at the situation holistically and if you still think he deserves your hate, then so be it. But really assert your energies on the excitement of the next guy.
  2. A “No” doesn’t mean your program totally sucks – There’s probably a long(ish) list of names your AD is going to go through and that list starts with some dream names. He’s going to get rejected. Your school is going to get rejected. You don’t suck that bad.
  3. Do not host out of town friends with no connection to college basketball – They’ll soon realize that you being on your phone has nothing to do with the forthcoming “exciting things” you have planned and that you’re just incessantly reading rumors on Twitter. Never set yourself up to be an asshole (which is more of a life rule).
  4. Be Patient –  It took Oregon a brief lifetime to find Dana Altman. These things take time. Know that your AD – or at least hope that your AD – has been on the Bat Phone for a few months now talking to intermediaries and handlers or World Wide Wes or whatever and whoever the hell else is involved in back room deals where public comments sound a lot like a Johnnie Cochran case: DENY DENY DENY!
  5. Do not sneak into a local resort and get drunk in the jacuzzi – Such a situation lends itself to extreme bouts of nostalgia and Glory-Days-syndrome. Your expectations will be unfairly heightened.
  6. Do not contact former head coaches of your school whose actions warranted NCAA sanctions and then the hiring of the firable Kevin O’Neill – Duh.
  7. Group text – Include only your core and most trusted fellow fans. You do not have to share this conversation with everyone. There’s free reign for discussion here and it’s a safe place. The trust tree…in the nest.
  8. Good Scotch – Just a solid thing to have around.
  9. 80-20 Rule – Believe 20% of what you hear is bullshit. Know that 80% of what you hear is bullshit.
  10. Do not start a plane tracking thread – This is just borderline insane. Your time will be better suited by starting a rumor about a coach’s wife dealing with a local real estate agent. Even that’s weird. In fact, just don’t be a rumor starter. Laugh at those ridiculous rumors publicly and refer back to Rule #7 for discussion.
  11. Your program might not be as tight as you think – Otherwise you wouldn’t be hunting for a coach.
  12. Believe – Give unbridled support to the coach you hire. He’s excited about the opportunity and we can all, for at least one brief press conference, believe that coach’s aren’t hired to be fired and that this guy just might outdo Wooden.
  13. The Basketball season will start at the same time next year – And your team is likely to not be very good.
  14. If your school is a public institution, apply – By law, any state school has to open all state funded positions to the general public (or some other legal jargon way of saying it). Find the job posting on your school’s website and apply. What’s the worst that could happen?
  15. Mike Krzyzewski at Army – 9-17 when he was hired away from that institution. The rest is a pain in everyone’s ass.
  16. Do not trust the following:
  • Message board contributors who’s screen name resembles something like [insert team name]Fan4Lyfe[insert year of school’s best season]
  • Tweets from person’s with fewer than 1k followers
  • Coaches:

On Ben Howland and the UCLA Job

Honestly my first reaction was sadness. I did not enjoy seeing Ben Howland and the program he led and the manner in which he led it so widely chastised and considered ruinous.

And I understand the nature of this beast. It’s a business of immediate criticisms with many anonymous critics free to spout whatever they wish from behind the security of a screen name. Also a lot of very public critics.

But I suppose what I find so interesting about this now vitriolic UCLA fan base – now encouraging their former coach to not let the door hit him on the way out – has been their insistence on replacing “Coach.” To ensure that there is a head figure to carry forth the program of Coach, with the principles of the pyramid bound to their mind and inscribed across his heart.

Ben Howland is a helluva basketball coach. Somewhere along the line he lost his way as the elite guy he swiftly proved himself to be; but, as evident by this season’s Pac-12 championship, he didn’t stray too far from what exactly he is: a terrific basketball coach.As it unfortunately were, he did not have the energy to carry the torch of the past; to embody the man (Wooden) whom he is not, was not, and will not be. An exhausting task to compete with the ghosts of the past.

But as I said, there is a beast to this industry and so, when expectations realistic or otherwise are not met, the beast rears its ugly head and axes are swung.

I’m not trying to make an argument here for keeping Ben Howland. It’s become clear that he is not the right man, right now, to be the lead at UCLA. His time had run its course. There was little enthusiasm in Westwood and Howland seemed to be doing very little to instill excitement in the program surrounding his on-court product. It would appear that both parties are best suited with a fresh start.

Which might be exactly what the UCLA program needs: A fresh start. And I’m not talking about simply a new coach. John Wooden will never be replaced. He can and should be respected and remembered are revered but no man will be successful in any venture mimicking another. The Bruins are about to acquire a very good coach. A man with an impressive resume and the utmost respect for the job he’s inheriting. But for him to be successful, for him to truly uphold the principles of “Coach’s Program,” he will have to be his own man. Whatever that is, he will adhere to his own principles and succeed by his own strengths. He will win because, in his own right, is good.

Ben Howland will take a season or so off and find his way into a new position somewhere and likely be very successful there. He’ll find little appreciation for his ten seasons in Westwood (the longest tenure since Wooden) but he should sleep well at night knowing he’s good at what he does: Coach basketball.

May his next venture allow him to do such.

May UCLA’s next venture allow someone to succeed.

The Dancing UCLA Bruins

What a long strange trip it’s been for these Bruins. From hype to hapless to conference champs we find ourselves looking now at the only six-seed to be expected to lose. Seems about fitting for this team considering the season they’ve endured. Or created. This is UCLA and the story should be about success and not backpacks or job statuses. But that’s the world we live in today. On to Tubby v. Ben.

Why I like them: Who doesn’t like League talent? The Bruins have arguably the NBA’s top prospect in Shabazz Muhammad and when it comes to tournament play (that’s to say win or go home) I’m generally taking the more talented team. Muhammad quickly ups the talent level of your squad. What’s more – and I mentioned this regarding Cal – is that guard play reigns supreme in March and the Bruins have one helluva PG in Larry Drew II. He finished fourth in the nation in assists per game and 37th in assist rate. Thanks in part to his consistent and heady play, the Bruins turn the ball over at just a 16% rate. Not giving the ball up can go a long way in helping them stick around this tournament.

Why I don’t like them: Jordan Adams broke his foot. I love this guy’s game and he will be sorely missed as the Bruins now further lack depth as well as a dynamic offensive threat. He’s a shot creator that aids in opening the floor up for the shooting talents of Muhammad and the Wear family. But he’s gone now, moving Norman Powell into the starting lineup, again highlighting the Bruins’ gross lack of depth. And even though it’s been curbed for a good chunk of the season, the resurfacing of Ben Howland’s job status has got to be some sort of distraction.

Poetic Justice: In the face of a critical fan base and general national tone, Ben Howland rallies his group of UNC castoffs and oft-criticized stars to make a surprising run into the Elite Eight. Howland is retained for another season and Kyle Anderson stays another year as Tony Parker swiftly and surprisingly turns into the standout we’ve expected to see. That went way down the line. But it’d be quite a big deal.

Best Possible Scenario: Larry Drew II, in his first significant tournament time, continues to play the role of on-court leader (a role he’s played fantastically) and helps the Bruins past an athletic but enigmatic Golden Gophers group. They have no answer for Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker plays his best game of the year exposing Minnesota’s lack of size. In the second round (yea, I’m still going to call the “third round” the second round) Kenny Boynton shoots the Gators out of the tournament and Ben’s boys find themselves with a favorable Sweet-16 matchup/rematch against SDSU. And win just because this is a best possible scenario. They unfortunately run into the red hot Michigan Wolverines who are just to tough with their big, talented guards, ending the Bruins’ lovely run on Atlanta’s doorstep.

 

Waxing Seniority: Larry Drew II

With the regular season now wrapped and the Pac-12′s seniors having played their final home games, we’re taking a tour across the conference and bidding this group of seniors farewell.

Drew Murawa is a writer and editor at Rush the Court covering both the Pac-12 and Mountain West. I enjoy his perspective on the Pac and the complex goings on surrounding the UCLA program.

Larry Drew II by Drew Murawa

I don’t like to admit it often (because I like to pretend I can be completely impartial), but I grew up a UCLA fan and have a soft spot in my heart for the Bruins. If I’m covering a game, I’m watching it more as a basketball fan than as a UCLA fan, but the fact is, when I pull up a stool at the bar with some friends to watch a UCLA game, I am going to root – often loudly and obnoxiously – for the Bruins, just as I have done for most of my adult (and I use that tern quite loosely) life.

As such, apart from diagnosing the effectiveness of all UCLA basketball players, I also will always have an opinion about the likability of Bruins throughout the ages. Tracy Murray, I loved. Mitchell Butler, Gerald Madkins, Darrick Martin – all spark great memories. And yet Don MacLean? Sorry, but somehow despite all those points, he never did it for me. Toby Bailey? I’ve got some great memories of the guy, but we just never clicked; I was more of a J.R. Henderson guy, despite his sleepy personality. Cedric Bozeman wormed his way onto my good side in his final season, while Jason Kapono remained on the outside looking in. And, then of course, there are the unimpeachables like Ed O’Bannon, Tyus Edney, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, Lorenzo Mata, Arron Afflalo and more.

All of which is just preamble to discussing the legacy of Larry Drew II in the lore of UCLA basketball. I’ll admit it: when the announcement came down that he would be spending his final year of eligibility in Westwood after an unceremonious early departure from North Carolina, I anticipated disliking him. The way he quit on his teammates in Chapel Hill, regardless of whatever externalities may have prompted such a rash decision, stuck in my craw. Throw in the facts that I hadn’t seen a whole lot in his game to love and that his UCLA career would be so short, and I was well prepared to push the LDII era to the well blocked-off corners of my mind haunted by figures like Trevor Ariza, Michael Fey and Jerome Moiso.

Well, I’m happy to say that, as I reflect on Drew’s time at UCLA in advance of the Senior Night celebration of his career, Drew’s going to go down on the good side of the ledger. First and foremost, after at least three years of a significant downturn in the artistry of Bruin basketball, Drew was the floor general – and a key cog – in the return to watchability. Sure, plenty of that has to do with the fact that he was fortunate enough to come along at a time when guys like Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson were capable offensive threats at the end of Drew’s passes, but make no mistake – Drew has helped each of those guys achieve what they have.

But there are a lot of other facets to the Drew story that make him likable Bruin. On a team that has often displayed some sketchy body language when things weren’t going right (and sometimes even when it was), Drew has been a rock – a mature leader on a team with some emotional youngsters. And slowly but surely, as the season has gone on, some of that has rubbed off on his teammates as wins have piled up. Then, of course, as I just alluded to, in order to really earn a spot up among the favorites, you gotta make some big plays. And that game-winner against Washington (despite the rest of the game being an abomination against the sport of basketball) was a memorable moment.

But as I look back on Drew’s career from this vantage point, what strikes me the most is one of my favorite storylines in the sport we love so much: personal growth. We first got to know Drew as an 18-year-old kid,  probably a little bit spoiled, with plenty of expectations on his head, expectations he failed to meet out of the gates. After a year playing spot minutes in relief of Ty Lawson on the way to a National Championship, Drew inherited the starting spot as a sophomore and, frankly, was a weak spot until Kendall Marshall usurped his spot in the middle of the following year. And the kid, a continent away from home and experiencing failure for the first time, made an abrupt decision to quit on his team. In other words, he made the type of immature decision that 20-year-old kids like me, and you, and everybody else, makes from time to time. The difference is, he made his decision in the full glare of the public spotlight. And regardless of the reasons for that decision or the story behind it, nothing is ever going to change that decision or make up for it or make it right. And you know what? That’s all right. Because one of the reasons we love sports is to watch redemption. And one of the reasons we love college sports in particular is because we love seeing these kids improve. And one of the reasons we love seniors most of all is because we’ve had a chance to see these kids grow up before our eyes in a crucible of pressure and attention.

And, framed that way, Drew’s career arc is irresistible. Kid was highly regarded as a high school player, with the famous father. Kid signs on with a blueblood program, wins a national title in his first year as little more than pinch-hitter, then repeatedly strikes out over the next couple seasons. Kid disappears from the public eye, woodsheds while he works on his game and works on his life and when kid reappears (at another blueblood, no less), he is a kid no more. He is a leader of the next wave of kids.

As a Bruin fan, Larry, it was damn good to get to know you.

Not So Pac-12 Awards: Greatest Spectacle

The season itself is a spectacle, full of unforeseen incidents, shocking results, and jaw droppers. Story lines unfold before us quicker than grandma with a cheetah on her back and can flush away what we knew yesterday like a flash flood.

Sometimes its like a car wreck where we can’t help but watch. Other times it’s a heartwarming tale, something that moves us to re-admit that we cry during Rudy. It can be controversy, rivalry, history, or a single moment that changes the course of a season.

The great spectacles of 2012-13:

The UCLA Situation

BenHowlandCOY

From the outset of this season, Ben Howland and company were going to be watched with a keen and expectant eye. Collectively we knew his program was reeling. But he had garnered the second best recruiting class in the nation including the best high schooler in the country, Shabazz Muhammad. So when they were taken to overtime by UC-Irvine and then lost to Cal Poly, far greater than grumblings bubbled about Howland’s job. In fact, there were reports that he’d be dismissed mid-season. So yeah, when the most successful program in the sports history is talking about firing their HC, it’s a spectacle. And a pecuiliar one when that coach regroups to win the outright conference title. Which begs the question: Now what? We’ll see as this story will continue to be one of the bigger tales across the nation.

To the Monitors

SabatinoChenArizona

Pac-12 opening night. The undefeated Arizona Wildcats. The upstart Colorado Buffaloes. Arizona would win in overtime which is about the start of this story. A tale that’s still being cited as these two are poised to perhaps meet again in the Pac-12 Quarters. Alas, following Chen’s banked three, the monitors were visited and the decision made that the senior Buffalo didn’t get his game-winner off. And, like I said previously, the Wildcats won in overtime.

One Game, Two Rankings

Arsalan Kazemi, Larry Drew II

On Saturday, January 19, 2013, the #24 UCLA Bruins Hosted the #21 Oregon Ducks in Pauley Pavilion. Oregon would win the game but that’s not the news. What’s news is that this was the first contest featuring ranked Pac-12 opponents since March 2009. That’s a damn long time. And we still haven’t had another since that mid-January showdown. But Arizona and UCLA could collide in a colossal Pac-12 semi-final featuring #21 v #18. Whoa.

KO, KO’d. You, Cantu

733617

Despite a 2-2 conference mark and a drubbing of Utah, the sun rose on Monday and Kevin O’Neill was relieved of his duties as USC’s head coach. Long time assistant, Bob Cantu, was appointed the interim man and did an admirable job. Leading the Trojans to a seventh place finish. But the real conversation centers around what they’ll do following the season. The gig has been linked to some big names and some familiar names. Whatever the case, I think Pat Haden has the opportunity to make a big splash.

Her

pac-12-tournament-o

 

Not So Pac-12 Awards: Greatest Spectacle

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Week 10 Pac-12 Hoops Review

OK, once I shook off the strangeness of last night’s GIRLS episode and taken in Wanderlust which is actually hilarious, I managed to try and further wrap my head around the strangeness of this weekend’s Pac-12 results. But quickly I realized there was no use in trying to make sense of it all. We celebrate these sorts of oddities so long as its more parity than mediocrity. And I really believe the Pac has transitioned to the former once again this year. The top hasn’t quite lived up to their collective elite billing but they haven’t been bad. And, as evidence of WSU knocking off UCLA, the coaches were right from the beginning in saying that the bottom half of the conference is much improved.

And it’s all over now.

It’s win or go home time. Who doesn’t love this stuff? And I love the shakeout of the brackets. I mean on Wednesday we’ll be treated to the Apple Cup, a 5-12 game in which the 12 just beat the 5, and a 7-10 game featuring Utah who is one of just three Pac-12 teams on a 2 game win streak. All the wrong teams are hot.

The weekend:

Leader in the Clubhouse: The University of California, Los Angeles Bruins are your outright 2012-13 Pac-12 Champions. This is surprising considering the start to their year. And whether you like it or not, Ben Howland’s name is in the Coach of the Year hat. He’s steadied this ship and, well, won a conference title. That’s saying something and I think we can stop there for now. Projecting the downstream or off season goings on inside that Athletic Department is not a worthy venture. Not today.

Biggest Loser: The Oregon Ducks had the conference title in their hands. It was theirs to lose heading in to this weekend and then they lost it. This was an egg laying and there’s really no two ways about it. They weren’t even competitive which is not a good sign heading into tourney time. Alas, they’re still getting their Artis-legs back about them and all seasons do tend to hit a dog days moment. The Ducks’, however, hit at about the worst possible time as they now have third place to show for it.

What We Learned: We learned this. The bracket is officially set for Vegas and the crowning of a conference TOURNAMENT champ will ensue. A team getting to spend Sunday, 3/17 stress-free. And please note that I don’t love the conference tournament concept. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a marvelously fun and fan-friendly endeavor. I’m going and couldn’t be more excited to watch this. But from a competition standpoint, I really appreciate the value given to the regular season when there isn’t an end of season tournament. But because there is such high value (both entertainment and monetary) to such an event, this thing ain’t going anywhere. I’m not fighting it, just noting that I like the regular season conference championship. That’s a big deal. Bravo, Bruins.

The YouTuber: To cut this scene had to have been like 1000 takes:

Pac-12 Coach of the Year: A VOTE!

This may be the toughest of the awards to choose. I feel like so much of this pick gets set upon a team’s expectations which is so dramatically far from fair. A coach can do a very good job with a very bad team that just wasn’t very good (LoRo this year is a pretty decent example of that).

When I’m making a pick like COY, I like to look at the team’s general body of work and ask questions like: Did they get better? Did they win at home? Did they eek out a couple they maybe shouldn’t have? Did they lose games they shouldn’t? How did they respond to adversity? How much would I want to have a beer with this guy? Important stuff.

NOTE: I think image searching/trolling for pictures of Pac-12 coaches is in my top 17 things to do in life.

The candidates and then the field:

Dana Altman, Oregon

DanaAltmanCOY

Certainly when subscribing to the expectations-reality model, this guy is the guy. Picked to finish seventh, they’re now in the driver’s seat to finish first. That’s a big gap. But maybe he just straight up had that good of a team. Whatever. Point is, Dana has lead a group to sound play since November and done a masterful job in ensuring his team managed to weather the injury storm to Dominic Artis.

Ben Howland, UCLA

BenHowlandCOY

I think a lot of people are going to hate seeing his name on the COY list (I see you BruinsNation) but Ben’s group has rebounded moderately well from what was shaping up to be disaster of a distracted year: Josh Smith’s transfer, Shabazz’s eligibility, Shabazz’s back pack, Shabazz’s pink eye, UC-Irvine. So as this things piled up and the buzz around his job security came to a head, this team had every excuse to quit. Throw in the towel and just get to March. Well they haven’t quite done that and while there have been some ups and downs, Howland has done a fair job this season.

Bob Cantu, USC

BobCantu

Just as I commend Howland for not quite letting his team quit, so to must we comment the interim guy across town. Cantu took over a 2-2 squad from a coach calling his team “castoffs” and “rejects,” playing with a “chip on their shoulder.” I suppose the final justification comes in the fact KO was castoff himself which could easily could have become a quitting point. It didn’t Together – with his team – they became a whole new version of rejects (as I assume Cantu soon will be dismissed as interim HC) to battle for a top six finish. They beat UCLA in Westwood and soundly beat the Wildcats, letting everyone know, so long as you don’t quit, you Cantu!

Herb Sendek, Arizona State

spt-asumbkc 166503

The Sun Devils’ year may be coming to a tough close but there was nothing disappointing about the season the Herbivores pieced together. They out did any and all expectations and while I’ve previously stated I’m not a fan of the expectations-reality model of choosing a COY, in this case I think it’s fair. He added just one new component in Jahii Carson (Evan Gordon essentials fills a similar role to Trent Lockett) and then got the absolute most from 2011-12 underwhelming returners Jonathan Gilling, Carrick Felix, and Jordan Bachynski. Improvement is part of a coaches job and YoY the Devils did that.

The Field

COYCandidates

Tad Boyle, Mike Montgomery

 

Pac-12 Coach of the Year

  • The Field (48%, 11 Votes)
  • Dana Altman (35%, 8 Votes)
  • Bob Cantu (9%, 2 Votes)
  • Ben Howland (4%, 1 Votes)
  • Herb Sendek (4%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 23

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Anything but a Quiet Trip to UCLA

It was quiet-ish, by no means raucous, but banners speak louder than words and UCLA most certainly has that rack to hang their hat on. And believe me, they do. The arena and experience drip with Wooden and historical lore; from the statue that adorns the Pavilion concourse to the pyramids on the jerseys and the banners themselves, right down to the halftime honoring of the 1972 championship team (including two Arizona dads, Walton and Bibby), the UCLA experience comes right at you with a full dose of “Nana nana boo boo, we good.”

And with such comes a fan base leaving something to be desired in noise production and timeliness, a perceived arrogance marinated in the aforementioned lore. But it’s deserved. With regards to the timeliness, I will give a moderate hall pass as I was grossly reminded of Los Angeles’ infamous traffic and only wish it upon a handful of contemporaries.

But traffic was never an issue in arriving to Los Angeles.

Definitely no traffic issues getting there. Of slight concern was my aggression towards a piano bar 29th birthday party Friday night but ultimately that never proved a deterrent to departure but did ensure my ibuprofen consumption. Roommate Tim and I were out the door and into the Red Dragon by 5:45am and at Spencer’s door by 5:57am. Spencer would sleep for the better part of the next 393 miles.

DragonMorning

Good morning, Red Dragon.

We stopped briefly in Palo Alto to acquire our fourth companion, Justin, and breakfast at Starbucks. Then onward and southward. It was during this part of the trip that we learned Justin lives exactly one Prius tank of gas away from Venice Beach. We rocked the hell out of Songza playlists like “’90s Crowd Pleasing Hits,” “100 Worst Songs,” and “’90s One-hit Wonders,” and other songs of requisite road trip nature. We had an adult conversation about religion with references to sociology and general human nature while Spencer slept. We dissected the hell out of Arizona basketball – past, present, and future – and concluded that Johnny Dawkins is on the hottest seat in the Pac, what realistic expectations are for Beavers and Cougars, and whether or not we’d ever want to own a Ranch (the consensus was ownership without having to deal with horses). Spencer never snored.

In-n-Out was acquired just outside of Los Angeles – a road trip requirement – with the 80-degree weather being met with mixed reviews and begging the question of how any of us ever played High School baseball double headers in July in 104-degree Tucson summer heat wearing cotton socks, polyester pants and sliders, a jock strap, a cotton shirt, a mesh jersey and a hat. For the record, I loved the 80-degree heat.

Arrival at the hotel was familiar as we quickly learned that Venice Beach significantly parallels The Haight.

Arrival in Westwood would prove less simple.

Following back-to-back cabbies shaking us off like a 3-0 slider, we sat down to recuperate from the rejection at the local drinking establishment and conjure up a cab plan. Fortunately our waitress was kind enough to call us a cab. Unfortunately for her she’d attended Arizona State. We tipped her for the cab effort and gave our condolences on her adolescent decision.

At a cost of $40 covering just 6.6 surface street miles and 40 more minutes of asinine conversation, we arrived at the predetermined libation house, Barney’s Beanery, adorned in red as I explained to a young Wildcat (sub-six years old, not at the bar) why I’d just encouraged him and his family to Bear Down. Paying it forward I believe they call it. Drinks ensued with nary a word of trash exchanged as both Cats and Bruins alike lamented Ryan Kelly’s miss-less return (although I will fully admit it embodied everything I love about the drama of sport) amongst the pre-game anxieties.

Then we headed to Pauley.

I was intrigued to see the redesigned and modernized pavilion. Much had been made of the school’s investment in the old stadium (The Bruin Road Show) but perhaps the fellow behind me in line – who also noted I would be having to change my shirt upon entry to which I informed him of his probable disinterest in seeing me shirtless – said it best, “You can’t do a $100 million overhaul of a $5 million building.” So very LA to give a facelift to an aging wonder while ignoring innate flaws and failing to address intimacy. The 50+ year-old, on-campus gem was cleaned up, given a contemporary look and feel with a professional viewing experience. Aesthetically, it worked. But the stadium seating still begins a fair distance from court-side and the acoustics won’t quite aid an already peaceful audience. Which is the exact point my friend in line was making: Pauley was never a viewer’s dream, but at least now it looked nice.

Because whatever home court advantage you can conjure up has always come from what I’ve already mentioned: the banners, the history, the mystique and aura of the greatest program in the history of college basketball. So once inside the stadium, a fan of the sport, I had to look up and take in what no other school has accomplished. At halftime what other choice did I have but to applaud the 1972 NCAA Champion Bruins? Regardless my fan allegiances, bravo to a collection of athletes piecing together an undefeated thirty game season.

On.

But then it was game time and the ball was tipped (VANDROSS IS COMING!!!!) and in seventeen brief seconds Mark Lyons had gotten to the rack for two and it was on.

Game on.

Well Arizona would hold a lead for just 15 more seconds in this contest.

The Cats teased and toyed with a modest Arizona fan backing but ultimately didn’t have the defensive presence or ball maintenance (18 turnovers) to defeat a sound and beautifully point-guarded Bruins team. I left that remodel perhaps more impressed with Drew2 than upset with Mark Lyons’ decision making, Solomon Hill’s passive game, Nick Johnson’s shooting, Nick Johnson’s ball handling, Brandon Ashley’s disappearance, and Kaleb Tarczewski’s hands. OK, clearly I was a touch upset about a few things but just trust me when I say I was impressed with Drew2. It was senior night and he played like he was home.

And, at risk of jumping too far down Sappy Street, isn’t that what college is all about? He made kid decisions as a kid, quitting on his Tar Heel team and bolting without facing the music. And now he’s led the Bruins through what really had the foundation of becoming a tumultuous season. I mean really led and grew up. I admire that.

(Keep an eye out later this week and into next as some great bloggers guest on PacHoops with their own farewells to seniors across the conference. The LD2 one is great)

But the Cats gave it one last push. They showed that tardy fight that helped them to 14-0 with key victories over Florida and San Diego State. With 24-seconds remaining and the ball, Miller called timeout and I took a seat back in my chair; lightly rocking with a nod to my head and a pounding in my chest. I clapped hard twice because what the hell else do I have to contribute besides noise and the ball was in-bounded to Lyons.

The crowd rose to its collective feet.

Here came the high screen.

The noise level rose.

Into the lane went Lyons.

Time was evaporating.

A spin.

More than half the clock gone.

A forced shot.

The crowd was quiet-ish no longer.

And the game ended and the view obstructing railing no longer mattered. The banners waved a smidgen and the seats became a little less comfortable. Dammit.

It was a long walk back to Barney’s where we exhausted the house’s Fireball supply with one modest round for eight ailing Wildcats. The game was dissected extensively back at our hotel as Cast Away played in the background. Or maybe it was the foreground as Wilson was the closest thing to sports any of us could handle.

We took to the town, a somber albeit rallying group just looking for some fun. We found it in the form of a dance floor (and whiskey) at Circle Bar in Santa Monica. It worked and was highlighted by an impromptu dance-off. Mind you, none of us were involved, and for whatever reason when Dancer A cleared himself some space we paused our own moves to observe. At this point it wasn’t quite a dance-off, really more just some guy showing some pretty nominal moves. Dancer B took notice from the opposite corner of us and jumped right into this newly formed circle; all five-foot-six of him adorned in a kid’s batman costume. He moved quickly into some splits and other impressive things I can’t really describe. Dancer A took his turn until B returned to the center of the circle. He stood there, commanding the attention of A, and with his hand raised he counted down:

3…What the hell is he doing?

2…That cape is really small.

1…This better be goo—HOLY BALLS DID HE JUST DO A FLATFOOTED, STANDING BACKFLIP?!?!?

Indeed tiny Batman had just done a flatfooted, standing backflip as the place erupted. Dancer A tried his hand at redemption but to no avail. Because you can’t beat a flatfooted, standing backflip in a dance battle.

And you can’t beat a road trip with your best friends. You really cannot.

For the second time in less than a month I’d walked out of an opposing building wearing defeat in the form of an upset. Don’t care. I’m heading to Las Vegas to take my chances again. And amongst all the madness of the road trip we began conjuring plans to get our asses to Ann Arbor next fall for the front-end of the Arizona-Michigan home-and-home.

For the charge home we’d picked up one additional pal, Faisal, and some hangovers. Nothing some ’90s hits couldn’t cure. We discussed more nonsensical hypotheticals, what the TJ McConnell effect could be, and how we were going to make it back to LA for Arizona’s trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Being a fan is great.

And Spencer didn’t sleep a wink.

CrammedDragon

Beaten but not broken. But cramped.

Week 4 Pac-12 Hoops Review

For the record, know that I could care less about Shabazz’s Gucci backpack. For starters, I’m not a backpack guy. That’s not to say I don’t like them, but exorbitant spending on a carrying device that effuses the appearance of a middle-school seems an unworthy purchase to me. I still use the backpack I used from the first day of sixth grade. I mean, there was a Trapper Keeper in that thing. Whatever Shabazz had in his – more than likely just channeling his inner KD35 – I’m not concerned and I certainly don’t care about how he got it. I’ll let that be worried about by the NCAA and whatever investigative abilities they may or may not have. Go for it fellas! Because I’m really more concerned with UCLA’s crowning victory parade ending in a Tempe meltdown. No bueno there and while I think it might say more about ASU, it certainly wasn’t a good luck for the Bruins who looked mighty good in Tucson. Alas, maybe the backpack is telling of where the focus is in Westwood.

Leader in the Clubhouse: An utter no brainer here, the Oregon Ducks just keep stockpiling wins like its football season or something. I love how deeply ingrained this team is in playing the style their coach wants them to. They systematically beat you and that’s why they managed to eek out yet another W despite losing Dominic Artis. And they’re deep, too. On Wednesday night, Altman saw his second group mount a bit of a comeback against the Cougars in the first half. That group cut an eight point deficit to three. And then he subbed four new bodies in. Arizona is the only other team that can do that in the Pac-12. When you can throw that many looks at people, it makes you defensively vicious. I mean, look at the UCLA-ASU box score. Not one starter played less than 30 minutes. That’s unsustainable and a truth the Ducks will never have to deal with. And EJ’s heating up.

GotW: Felt like a lot blow outs this weekend, some demons being shaken free. My gut would suggest that the Oregon-Washington game was the GotW but any event that displays 44 combined turnovers cannot be consider the best of anything. Maybe the best of the worst, I don’t know. I did catch that USC-ASU game that went to OT and featured a whole heckuva lotta points. Somewhere KO sipped (slugged?) his JD-rocks and thought, “A team once coached by me nearly yielded a century mark?” Alas, JT Terrell gets to play free and loose and it showed as he and Jio hit big threes in the closing ticks. Fun game.

Biggest Loser: I really do not like what I’ve been seeing from Cal. I think Allen Crabbe is tremendous but one player does not a team with effort and discipline make. Justin Cobbs was quickly taken out of his game in the first half in Colorado and that essentially spelled the rest of his night. Sure he got his late but at that point the Buffs were heels up sipping fine scotch and curious whether or not they were going to hit up the slopes in Park City before or after their trip to Utah next week. Cal looked disinterested and out of sorts and wildly dependent on the successes of Crabbe and Cobbs. Bad recipe.

What We Learned: The Buffs are back. They played their kind of ball and took the Bay Area to task. Final scores aside, Colorado finally started scoring some buckets. Is Xavier Johnson for reals? I know he’s not going to drop double-doubles on the weekly but his 11/3 effort Thursday was exactly what this group needed from someone not named Booker, Dinwiddie, or Scott. Also, 20 rebounds is so much. The next step will be in observing the sustainability of this O as the slump they were in was significantly long. Did they just catch fire or is this real deal? I’m leaning towards the latter. I told BuffsNation about it, too (amongst other weekend wrap up items). But in all honesty, I don’t know if too much was grossly revealed by this weekend’s games. UCLA exposed Arizona as lacking a scoring threat on the post and that just because there is immense size in Kaleb Tarczewski, he isn’t yet the type where teams scheme against him, opening things up for Arizona’s dynamic guards. Grant Jerrett is becoming more assertive about getting into the blocks but isn’t quite there yet. At the end of the day, however, your team is generally pretty well suited to feature two such players. It’s going to be OK in Tucson.

The YouTuber: This video was brought to my attention and I can’t get enough of it. I don’t know if it’s the fact that a 6’9″ 270lbs man tackles someone absurdly unprepared to take a tackle from a 6’9″ 270lbs man or the shot. Dude should get blindfold credit.