Tag Archives: I-5

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 9 Pac-12 Hoops Review

If something really nuts happened pop-culturally or otherwise I’d usually reference it right here and make an obscure analogy to Pac-12 basketball or talk about Jennifer Lawrence (though I did fall in love with Kelly Reilly this weekend). And I’m no doubt certain something to that effect did occur but I was marvelously busy driving up and down the coast and missed everything except for briefly seeing a snippet of the Dennis Rodman comments on North Korea and there’s literally nothing to be said about that beyond it being bat shit crazy. Interestingly enough, we gobbled at least 25 miles of highway discussing the genesis of that very phrase “bat shit crazy.” Other topics discussed: religion, sociology, the Holocaust, upcoming concerts, the UCLA-Arizona game, sexual failures, future road trips, utter nonsense, the UCLA-Arizona game, conquests, how to infiltrate another school’s homecoming, owning a ranch, the UCLA-Arizona game, other people’s business, the UCLA-Arizona game, and how good In-n-Out was going to be once we got there.

The weekend:

Leader in the Clubhouse: First place lies in the balances between Westwood and Eugene as we head into the final weekend of the conference season. However, as this is a review, we won’t look too far down the path of which of these teams is best suited to sweep their final weekend roadie. No, I’m asking the question who the leader in the clubhouse is and while UCLA’s work this weekend was markedly impressive, the Oregon Ducks, A) Got their guy back, B) Beat Oregon State, C) still hold the tie-breaker. But let’s focus on the fact that Artis is back and that it’s sorta, kinda, semi huge. His impact hasn’t quite yet been felt and he certainly didn’t go all Ryan Kelly on us, but with the Ducks already holding the lead on the 1-seed, getting their most used player back is a major benefit.

Biggest Loser: The Arizona Wildcats officially lost any intangible edge they held by being the top ranked team in the conference. Well, clearly that had already become the case as USC showed no such fear in shooting 61% while manhandling the Wildcats. And then, in the conference’s Game of the Year, they were further exposed as a team with erratic and poor guard play and a reeling defense. Ok, again, maybe we already knew this but it all came to a giant and alarming head this weekend. Arizona is flirting with dropping out of a first round bye in Vegas and appears to have a lot more questions than answers with just one game and two tournaments remaining. Niet good.

What We Learned: I learned that new Pauley looks like it’s really new and re-confirmed that I-5 is really as boring as you’ve heard but that road trips with your friends are never a failure. I’m also pretty certain Cal is better than just a hot team. It’s time to consider them more than that and while they’re indeed en fuego, this spade is a spade as they’re dangerously close to winning the Pac-12 regular season title. I liked the way I heard Jon Wilner put it on a ESPN 1490 with Jody Oehler, to paraphrase, “Five months ago we could wrap our minds around Cal as a title contender but just two months ago it seemed absurd.” Well they’re here and its real and should either UCLA or Oregon slip up next weekend, the Bears are in greater than striking distance.

The YouTuber: I just really thought this was pretty clever considering it’s basis in reality.

Week 9 Pac-12 Hoops Preview

Much gets made of this homestretch we’re in. I frankly don’t know when the homestretch began but I’m utterly flabbergasted that Vegas is eerily around the corner as my mom indirectly reminded us.

But we’re not there yet. There’s still some spicy games to be played and this Wednesday/Thursday has about as many traps as a Kevin McCallister house. From Arizona overlooking the previously demolished Trojans; to Colorado peaking at the East Bay before concerning themselves with the Peninsula; to a pair of historically relevant rivalry games (The Apple Cup and The Civil War) that happen to include two squads who are a combined 5-25 (OSU and WSU), there are indeed stumbling blocks galore. And while these games aren’t going to force you to cancel any plans, I’ll guarantee you’re updating some scores on your phone when you’re sitting at a Happy Hour at some suburban Chili’s that doesn’t get the Pac-12 Network. Confessional: last Thursday, when my mom was visiting and my brother and I were sitting down to dinner with her, we were surprised and grateful as she excused herself to the restroom with impeccable timing, allowing us to fire up the Watch ESPN as Justin Cobbs was setting up his dagger into the Ducks and costing us no mom time. She must truly love us. Or vice versa. All I know is she would not have known what sport we were watching.

Alas, give your parents a call and enjoy the weekend:

(more previewing on PacificTakes if you’re into that stuff)

GotW: I coined this the conference game of the year way back in January and by golly I’m sticking to it. In fact, I’m going to attend it. Yes, I’ll be hoping in the Red Dragon (below) and racing down I-5 to catch the Bruins and Cats inside Pauley alongside Game Day and UCLA’s maybe second sell out of the season. Los Angeles is a city that indeed recognizes big moments and captures them. Hosting the Wildcats in the brand new Pauley is one of those moments no matter the feelings surrounding the UCLA program. And Ray, people will come. I’ll come from San Francisco for reasons I can fathom (/Field of Dreams). But beyond name recognition, this game has some major, direct, Waterworld-budget-sized title ramifications. These two currently stand tied for second with the tie going to the Bruins. Assuming no forthcoming stumbling Ducks, this is a battle for second place and perhaps a top-6 seed in the Dance for UCLA and a two-seed for Arizona. Big game.

RedDragon

The Red Dragon

Game to Avoid: We are just two weeks removed from season’s end and so it’s hard to find any game to avoid. However, your Sunday afternoon is likely best spent at a bottomless mimosa or bloody brunch than watching the Apple Cup. Washington State is two-for-the-conference season and Washington ain’t playing for a whole lot more than an NIT birth which I now know from personal fan experience is a far less exciting tournament to watch during the year’s third month. Unless of course Ray Lewis pops into your locker room.

Something to Prove: Cal is as hot as a pistol and hosting Colorado and Utah. As a Pac-12 contender they should sweep the weekend, right? The answer is yes but I’ll be curious to see how Cal suddenly plays the role of the hunted. They haven’t exactly impressed against lesser competition (they beat Oregon State twice by a combined 4 points) and all five of their losses have come to teams behind them in the standings (save UCLA). And now they’re definitively wearing a target, hosting a hungry group of Buffaloes looking to seal up their own run to the Dance. Not to mention they’ll also play host to Larry K’s tough Utes who manage to stay in a whole lotta ball games. The Bears will need to prove their mettle as conference elite if they too want to dance with the big kids.

Something to Lose: The Colorado Buffaloes have a lot going for them as they sit alone in fifth place with four games remaining – two of which involve teams ahead of them in the standings, which is to say that their remaining schedule allots them the challenge and opportunity to climb. They’re also amongst the Top-25 RPI teams which grossly behooves their tournament chances. Aside from the computer stuff, their situation reminds me of ASU’s but A) Colorado is in the dance as of today, and B) They’re better suited to close their season hot. But what if they don’t? I did mention that this ending would be a challenge and to struggle would be, in a word, bad. Traveling to the Bay is about as tricky of a trip as the conference provides and the Buffs are approaching that very challenge on this homestretch.

The Jam: **NEW SEGMENT** Encouraged by my man Zach, I thought I’d toss in whatever current song I’m really in to. It’s a questioned I’ve proposed to a number of folks I’ve Q&A’d and I’m always open to discovering new music. So send it right back my way. The inaugural The Jam is “You – Ha ha ha” by Charli XCX. A little synth pop for your Wednesday morning with a nonsensical music video but plenty of energy. Let me know if you know a better music sharing strategy than YouTube links.

The YouTuber: Go say shuttlecock to someone without laughing. Do it.