Tag Archives: Pauley Pavilion

Arizona (and I) Visit UCLA on Saturday: Sports Preview

I’m skipping straight to Saturday’s game. It’s neither my job nor responsibility to be weary of overlooking an opponent. Arizona’s visit to USC is intriguing and I’m indubitably, unequivocally, absolutely watching. I’m in fact meeting a new hoops friend – RTC contributor, Michael Lemaire – for a Thursday evening of viewing and fandom. A delight.

But I’m not previewing Arizona’s visit to the Galen Center. Continue reading

The Galen Dunk Center

As the new basketball coach at USC, Andy Enfield will give stiff competition to Lane Kiffin for hottest spouse in the Athletic Department.



Layla Kiffin



Amanda Marcum

OK, so now that that’s out of the way, I love this hire. But it’s on pure potential, speculation, and magic stemming from his run to the Sweet Sixteen.

Looking at the numbers we can’t say a ton about Enfield. After all, there are only two season’s worth of data to determine much about his coaching abilities. He got this year’s team – which included the conference’s POY, Sherwood Brown – to play at a top-50 tempo (last season, Enfield’s first, they were closer to average, coming in as the 101st fastest squad). They shot 52.3% of their shots from 2pt distance (Dunk City) this season. America got to see them play a fun, energetic, exciting, root-for-able brand of ball. He, like cross town rival Steve Alford, has been to one Sweet Sixteen.

He assisted at at Florida State beginning in 2006. During that time, the Seminoles had four Top-25 recruiting classes. Is this enough to say he’s cut his recruiting teeth? Maybe. But note: did you see the spouse he recruited? Have I mentioned that?

Because ultimately, most of what we know is anecdotal. It’s surface. It’s fluff. Like a Maxim model, it’s shiny and pretty and wonderful on the outside; but we’re going to have to date her to find out if there’s any depth.

Further fact finding, however, suggests that this guy has been wildly successful in just about every endeavor he’s undertook: HS valedictorian, All-American basketball player (and All-Academic), entrepreneur (TractManager, All Net Shooting), NBA shooting coach, FGCU head coach (.594 win %, Sweet Sixteen), dating (perhaps NSFW).

Pat Haden has made a risky hire but an exciting one.

Of course the merits of such a hire will be evaluated on the eventual wins and losses accumulated by Enfield and the program he’s about to build. One must adhere to rule #12 in Surviving Your Coaching Hunt. Believe.

And Haden – by “winning the press conference” – has made it a lot easier to believe.

In January, I called this coaching hunt the Battle for Los Angeles following the firing of O’Neill. The respective regimes in Pauley and the Galen Center were failing to bring in local talent which had been central to each of their previous success.

So now the battle begins – Alford v. Enfield – and I love what Haden has done. He’s taken the completely polar opposite pick to that of his rival. Alford is a good hire, a guy with a proven track record of sound success and should continue to do such. Enfield has an HC track record of two years. Both are wildcards.

But my favorite part of this is the contrasting styles.

Alford has the bigger name job. His arena has 11 banners dangling in it and there is little doubt that he should be able to capture most blue chippers out of the LA area. He’ll have to fight for them, but UCLA will always have clout and a leg up on these recruitments. But his style could be limiting. Some players might not fit well and that’s where Enfield can swoop in, garner some of the premium athletes, and build the budding legend of The Galen Dunk Center.

This contrast propagates the Battle for Los Angeles, a fresh take on a classic rivalry.

Ultimately, however, comparing these hires is to compare apples and oranges. The parallels end at “vacant position.” Haden had the drawing board. Guerrero had the gauntlet. Time will tell whether these are “good hires” or not for their respective situations.

Alas, I like the Enfield hire for the excitement it garners which is the best it can do when no games are being played. Did you see the Galen stands as the season came to a close? This program needed an injection of joy. Haden delivered.


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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

BB: Pauley Want a Playlist? Road Trippin’

About this time tomorrow I’ll be flying down the monotonous Interstate-5 in a red prius with a busted driver’s side mirror packed with four Wildcats and one set of crutches (s/o Timmy). En route to the renovated Pauley Pavilion, I expect to be a coffee or four deep and no piss breaks. I’ll be sure to not keep you posted on that.

And we’ll be pumping jams through the Red Dragon’s (that’s what I call my car) stock speakers. After all, this is shaping up to be a road trip of Game Day proportions. I think we have tickets. We might have a hotel room. We could need handicap parking. There’s a chance we pickup a fifth on the return drive. It’s rumored we’re putting in this effort to watch a team with no effort.

But back to the jams.

Who doesn’t love cranking some classics while blasting down the highway carefree until you see even the slightest resemblance of a Crown Vic to which you react by slamming your breaks and passing the next 45 anxiety ridden seconds examining the hell out of your rear view mirror? I love it and here’s a chunk of the playlist:

I’m missing so many but holy cow are we in for a treat and then there’s a basketball game. It’s well documented how much I love hitting the Pac-12 road and I’ll once again say it’s the best damn road trippin’ conference in America. Sure it’s not always that accessible by vehicle (Boulder would be quite a drive) but I’m taking Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Eugene, Tucson, Salt Lake over Norman, Lincoln, Lubboch, Stillwater, or Morgantown.

And this trips a special one to me: I’m oh-for-Pauley. It was one of my first Pac-12 roadies and I’ve never attended a game in that arena in which the Arizona Wildcats have won. Tough. I’ve seen wins at Maples, Haas, Madison Square Garden, The Orleans, The Pond, Wells Fargo, and Cox but I’ve never tasted sweet victory inside Pauley. Could this be the year? Could the Wildcats set aside their fatigue or confusion or whatever it is that’s going on defensively and piece one together if not for me then for their own damn season?

I’d like to see it and I think so too would they.

The stakes are about as high as they can get and the atmosphere, to get fully cliche, will be electric. It doesn’t always get that way in Westwood but I guarantee you this sell out will be packing some punch.

I’ll see you there. I’ll be the one coming down from a music/coffee/gas pedal bender.

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.


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.

Thirteen things to watch in the Pac-12’s ’13

Conference play kicks off tonight and I’ve compiled thirteen things to behold in ’13. From individual games to storylines, this is shaping up to be one helluva season – one far more fruitful and talented than what transpired last season.

I’ve no doubt missed things. Or left things off (have I tossed in the USC towel?). So catch these and chime in with others.

The List:

  1. Colorado at Oregon, February 7 – These two squared off thrice a season ago with CU squeaking out two, one-point victories (including in the Pac-12 tournament). Both seem to be on similar trajectories under third year coaches and this would appear to be a budding rivalry. Prediction: These squads split, holding court at home, and both dance. Andre Roberson gets the better of the Arsalan Kazemi but Tony Woods takes the pup, Josh Scott, to task. The outside shot the Buffs have of sweeping this one? Askia Booker gets DGAF hot in Eugene.
  2. Arizona at ASU, January 19 – I don’t think this stands to be much of a game but Jahii Carson recently anointed himself top-PG in the Pac and Mark Lyons caught wind of it. There was evidently some twitter back and forth culminating in Carson citing that the fifth year senior should already be in The League. Unfortunately, I’ll be on an airplane for this one. At least I’ll have a seatbelt on. Prediction: Mark Lyons gets into the chest – defensively – and head of Carson and though the freshman manages 14 points, he also has six turnovers in the Sun Devils’ blowout loss. Arizona avenges last season’s late loss in Tempe and some Wildcat, I’m unsure who, will dunk on Jordan Bachynski. Hard.
  3. Cal at Stanford, January 19– Any time Monty returns it has to conjure up the old days for Cardinal fans; although in my last two trips to Maples almost no one has been there. I mean, there was literally a kid sitting fully spread out icing his ankle in the student section when I was there in 2011. But despite that history, Stanford knocked off the Bears in the season’s final game to keep them from a conference championship. Revenge will be on mind. Prediction: The Cardinal win this one and sweep the season series and there’s a sudden and growing displeasure surrounding the Montgomery-era in Berkeley.
  4. Arizona at UCLA, March 2 – Just look at those names. It’s a sexy matchup. Of late, however, it’s been anything but attractive as the two programs have experienced some mediocrity and turmoil. That narrative is exhausted. The new narrative, for at least a brief while, was that each program was back. We know that story, too. And now, as conference play begins, there are even more questions swirling about Westwood while people are still waiting to see just how good these Wildcats are. However you slice, this game will not be short of intrigue. Game Day and I will be in attendance. Prediction: My buddies and I have an absolute blast taking LA by storm and while the Bruins absolutely have the talent to whoop Arizona, the long road to March will have worn on the Bruins and their six-ish-man rotation (Tony Parker will transfer). At that point the Arizona baby bigs will have come into their own and, while not dominant, are able to put up numbers on the Family Wear. Cats pass their final test en route to the Dance and just might break the Bruins’ back in New Pauley. I’ll clap seven times to that.
  5. UCLA – This stuff is fascinating. I’m serious. We make up the storylines and then they manifest themselves in the most complex of ways. Shakespeare himself wouldn’t take Howland off the hot seat, toss him back on, and then beat Missouri. It’s impossible to contextualize this group of Bruins and grossly confusing. Sometimes they play defense (Ben!). Sometimes they run-and-gun (McCray!). I suppose this is a team with that version of wild-eyed crazy you want nothing to do with because they’re capable of beating anyone (Mizzou), losing to anyone (Cal Poly), and everything in between. Prediction: The Bruins will have a respectable year but what they’re really looking for full-scale respect. Something they’ve lost over the past few years and while the talented pieces they can roll out may frighten you, there isn’t the appropriate air about the program. Howland will be dismissed and UCLA strikes out on their attempts at some high profile hires and ultimately lands on a very good hire who maybe doesn’t WOW the LA media but will win basketball games.
  6. POY Race – I kinda think last year the Pac-12 ought to have forgone this award. They awarded it to Jorge as a career achievement prize and good on him but it overwhelmingly highlighted the league’s down year. This season, we’re already staring down the barrel of some really talented and intriguing players. Brock is putting up better numbers than a year ago and Jahii Carson is doing some impressive things in Tempe. Allen Crabbe is scoring points like it’s going out of style and I’m curious what happens if Shabazz keeps up his current pace as we suspect he might. Interestingly, three of the top teams are ridiculously balanced in Colorado, Oregon, and Arizona. Each squad features holistic attack not necessarily dominated by a single, POY-esque player. The Ducks have six players averaging nine-or-more points per game! That’s to say, none of these contenders will likely feature a POY but should taste great success. Prediction: The POY will hail from the 3-5 place finishing team. That’s to say I think Crabbe, Adams, Muhammad, and perhaps a surprising Cardinal makes a run at it. Brock gets shut out of the POY race once again because he doesn’t have the pieces around him to garner such an award and Jahii Carson learns the same tough lesson. When the dust of the conference season settles, we’ll find that Crabbe is the POY amongst many deserving candidates.
  7. You! – Go to an away game. Wear your colors in the middle of enemy territory and have drinks in the localest of bars you can find. Don’t – I repeat DO NOT – be an asshole. Embrace the fact that they don’t like you and you them, don’t make it personal, and root like hell for your team to win so your chest can waltz out of there the puffiest its ever been. The roadies I’ve traveled to have been some of my favorites: surprising my brother in Seattle last year just in time to see Gonzaga take AZ behind the woodshed; both trips to Pauley with my dad while I was in college in which the ‘Cats were demolished; the lap we did around Wells Fargo as Miller’s first team beat the Devils by 19; my brother’s first trip to visit in SF and the triple OT thriller in Haas two years ago. Grab some friends, a couple of nosebleed tickets and make it happen. Holler at me if the Bay Area happens to be your roadie of choice. I’m there. Do the same for the P12 Tourney in Vegas. Prediction: A weekend plan gets cancelled as a Friday is winding down at a Friday pace. You gchat your buddy who says fuggit and you both hop in the car and head to the Bay. You shout at me and we take the City by storm before attending whichever of the Saturday matchups you prefer (Berkeley by BART, Palo Alto by auto). The game’s a blast because both of those schools are going to present formidable competition and then we return to SF and run back Friday. Then we do the same for 4 nights in Vegas in March.
  8. The Unknown – Are you kidding me? Something mind-blowing is going to happen this season and it’s going to shift a significant chunk of thinking. Could it be the red hot Cardinal? What about their complete implosion? I propose the same for Robinson and his Beavers in Corvallis. Warming seats and hot hands and we’ll get to see all of it. Literally all of it. Larry promised! Prediction: One of ASU, OSU, and WSU will finish amongst the Top-6; someone you didn’t expect to get fired, does; one team wins a game on a 45-plus foot buzzer beater; and…forget this! I can’t predict the unpredictable beyond predicting that something unpredictable will occur and then we can revel in it together because this is sport and it’s precisely why we watch. Long live competition.
  9. Brock Motum – Watch him because no one else is. This guy is a one man wrecking crew and there’s really no secret about it beyond being lost in the Pacific Northwest. He’s one of the most used players in the nation (ninth and seventh in % of possessions and shots) and has maintained the level of efficiency he wowed us with last season. Things are rough coming out of Pullman but Brock is to be celebrated. And feared. Prediction: The Aussie leads his team to a respectable finish and a healthy run through Vegas. Nothing too fancy but the Cougs overachieve and he provides us with a wealth of knowledge we can drop on unsuspecting persons when we’re subtly one-upping them with our sports knowledge. 2019 Him: Yeah, Ian Thorpe is probably the greatest Australian…. 2019 You: Sure the Thorpedo was grand but Phelps took him to task. Do you realize that Brock Motum twice lead the Pac-12 – that’s some 156 scholarship athletes – in scoring and never won a POY award. Once he dropped 88-points on Kevin O’Neill’s Trojans and then taught them how to surf. And wrestle a shark. What a guy. Guaranteed that’s a conversation you’ll have.
  10. Toasty Chairs – I’m very rarely going to be one to call for a given firing, but I also feel I understand the nature of this college sports thing and the inertia surrounding a Head Coach. That said, in order to keep things moving at both LA schools, a change may be in order. Those appear to be the most volatile right now but the success of teams in Seattle, Pullman, Corvallis, Palo Alto, and Tempe should be paid attention to. A level of expectations hasn’t quite been met or a time frame not exactly fulfilled and things could be getting a touch spicy in those spots. I really do not foresee much by way of coaching hunts (goodness those are exhilarating if it’s not your program) but should that lead seat inside Pauley Pavilion become available, expect some big changes across the Pac. Prediction: Los Angeles finds itself coachless. UCLA will enter a hunt that has the college basketball world – particularly the Pac-12 – holding its breath. UCLA’s hiring, if done right, will no longer allow Pac teams to meddle around like winning is a 55% of the time thing. The following year, 2013-14, will open many more seats. Also, when USC relieves Kevin O’Neill of his duties, there’s a chance they make a splash hire that would dramatically turn heads.
  11. The Networks – Take advantage of this new resource to us. The games will be televised and that’s awesome; but to be frank, it’s 2013, and I expect to be able to see any game I want. I think the beautiful advantage the Pac-12 Networks allots us is the full-tilt, 360-degree coverage. From all things digital and comprehensive, we’re exposed to how modern media should be handled: online, offline, and everything in between. But read PacHoops, too, k? Prediction: DirectTV deal gets done over the summer as the Pac-12 pushes a softer bargain and DirectTV succumbs to the concept that they’re slowly becoming irrelevant in the modern era of ubiquitous and free media and the cable/satellite monopolies become increasingly aware of their dwindling state.
  12. Who’s Number 2? – The conference is Arizona’s to lose and after them there’s a smorgasbord of teams vying for that second spot. I find Colorado, Oregon, and UCLA in no particular order to be the favorites for this spot. I’ve previously stated that Stanford would be that team but they just haven’t impressed enough to garner my faith. At one point I kinda dug Cal – but they lost to Harvard at home! Anyhow, it’s going to be a wide-open race and as we mentioned in point #8, anything could happen. Prediction: Colorado. But I’ll elaborate to the point where I say four Pac teams dance (Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA) with a pretty good shot at five dancing, the fifth being Stanford. I really think they have the most intriguing pieces; the next step will just be some consistency. I think that could come with extended PT for Aaron Bright who had been returning from injury in the midst of the Cardinal’s OOC.
  13. The Old Guys – I’ve been pumping the seniors’ agenda since before the season began and, to date, few have let me down. Solomon Hill has been playing the complete game we came to expect and Carrick Felix has been nothing short of fantastic; while Jio Fontan has left plenty to be desired and EJ Singler has been good, not great. Larry Drew II has been a pleasant surprise in Westwood and there’s Brock. But now we’ve come to their final conference season. The part of the schedule where players cement legacies, become legendary, and embark on a home stretch of effort. Prediction: I already stated that Brock will guide the Cougars to exceed expectations. I think Solomon Hill stays his current course and EJ Singler will have a big conference year (at least bigger than his 10/5/3). Unfortunately Jio is who Jio. LDII’s numbers are nice but they aren’t going to make a difference for the Bruins if Shabazz and Anderson are going to struggle. Some senior is going to piece together a stretch run a la Carlon Brown, Kyle Fogg, or Devoe Joseph from last year. I love it.

Our Selfish Tragedy, Josh Smith, Leaves UCLA

I don’t fault Josh Smith for not wanting to be an elite basketball player.

That just very well may not be his bag. Sure he has a skill set to be great but does that mean he has to polish them? Does the fact that we see the potential of a dominant center mean Josh Smith needs to become such? No.

What’s had us up in arms about Smith’s tenure at UCLA is the fact that he tried it all on for size. He committed to the effort – in theory by joining the team – and never got around to the work. Because good things don’t happen simply because you start them. They happen because you finish them.

What Josh Smith wants is not what I want.

When I was nineteen I was going to be a Major League pitcher. Not nine, nineteen. Let’s just say that for me to have AJ Burnett’s stuff, I might not ever have a first born (I still don’t have a first born but that’s becomes a conversation about maturity and responsibility best had with my grandmother who may or may not disapprove of my lifestyle). Alas, I peaked at 88mph and that – like most good American boys – was in high school. I recounted some of those glory days this past weekend at home for Thanksgiving and then got back to my day job. Nine-to-five like so many others. I’m not ashamed of that; but I still wish I’d gotten that golden touch – like innately wearing PF Flyers – to get me past that glory days hump.

I never got it. Josh Smith did.

But here’s the thing, success is an internally driven outcome. I’m not going to be great – truly great – because you told me to. If I’m going to dominate computer programming, change the world of code, it’s going to be because I love that stuff. I have some natural talents and I expand on those (full disclosure I know nothing about programming or code or java or anything). The work is fun – or at least rewarding – because I know where it’s taking me. And if I’m not doing it for me? I’m taking short cuts and I’m happy with pretty-goods and that-ain’t-bads.

In Smith’s case, we call it a tragedy and that’s fair. By the standards of men who can’t fathom doing half the things he’s capable of, the tale of Josh Smith is tragic because we are the same men who can’t fathom forgoing such intrinsic skill. And that’s a selfish tragedy.

That’s not to excuse declining production and an inability or lack of desire to get in shape. When you sign up to play basketball at UCLA – or anywhere for that matter – you’re committing to something bigger than yourself; being game ready is imperative, expected, and required. When you’re not, people notice. When you’re annually not prepped, people get upset. Or worse yet, disappointed, and therein lies my point. We’re jealous of what Smith could have been and disappointed he didn’t want what we wanted. He is our selfish tragedy. The guy we’d never let ourselves be.

Additionally, it becomes a failure of the collective. From Coach Ben Howland to whoever has surrounded Smith, the young man has not been set up for success. At least by the possibly and likely unfair expectations of bystanders such as myself. Such as scouts, coaches, players, you.

Smith’s transfer is a terrific study in motivation. No one was going to push him to succeed unless he wanted to be successful. I won’t venture to know who or what surrounds him, but I can’t imagine there were many people sincerely in his court; perhaps overwhelmed by enablers or clingers-on reminding him he was above the requisite work. He’s not and none of us are. To lose the pounds, you have to put in the time whether you’re a D-1 athlete or trying to look good for bikini season, you’ve gotta do you.

And Josh Smith didn’t. His production suffered and reputation disintegrated. My hope is that he does figure what he wants out. Is that an NBA career? Maybe and that’s on the radar. If I’m him, I get my ass to Houston and hire John Lucas (The Sports Whisperer) and get me into shape, physically and mentally. But again, that’s me still trying to pitch game 7 of the World Series. Not Josh Smith. I suggest this because, optimistically speaking, he now finds himself with a world of possibility. He can literally go anywhere and do anything.

I hope he does what he wants.