Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Oakland Has Been Good Site For UCLA

By Dave Albee, Writer
Marin Independent Journal

The last time UCLA came through Oakland for the West Regional of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, Jim Harrick was its coach, Mark Gottfried and Lorenzo Romar were his top assistants and Steve Lavin was a restricted earnings coach with a clothing allowance.
They were all en route to Seattle where the Bruins won the national championship game in 1995.

Oakland was their oasis along the way. The Oakland Coliseum was their stage. Jack Nicholson even came up from Hollywood to watch UCLA's 102-96 regional championship win over UConn in person.

"It was like a Lakers game," said Lavin, the former Drake High standout who eight months later unexpectedly became the Bruins head coach. "The Oakland Coliseum was rooting for the West Coast team, the Pac-10, and it was electric in terms of the home crowd that we had. The entire area was pulling for UCLA."

The Bruins opponent on that day was UConn, which was on the verge of its first Final Four appearance and hadn't yet acquired a national following.

The Bruins' opponent this Thursday at the Oakland Arena will be Gonzaga. Big difference.

"The team UCLA wouldn't want to see is Gonzaga," Lavin said on Friday before appearing as a studio college basketball analyst for ESPN. "The sway vote will be rooting for Gonzaga."

By that, Lavin means that the Zags still have a Cinderella-like appeal, the mighty mid-major flashing visions of the David-like underdog taking down the Goliath from L.A. The Zags also have one of the best, most unique and entertaining players in college basketball, Adam Morrison. An all-around "old-school" player, he led the nation in scoring, tallying 30 or more points 13 times and over 40 five times.

Back in 1995, UCLA was the main attraction and all the other teams in Oakland were merely sideshows. The Bruins' first opponent in the West Regional was Mississippi State and Erick Dampier.

Then the Bruins played the UConn Huskies in the West Regional title game when Rebecca Lobo and the undefeated UConn women's team was more famous.

This Western Regional in Oakland has more star value and intriguing storylines to share the spotlight with UCLA. If the Bruins beat Gonzaga - which has the nation's longest winning streak at 20 - they face the winner of Memphis State-Bradley on Saturday and those two teams will have a way of catching the imagination of the Bay Area viewing audience.

Top-seeded Memphis has the Conference USA Player of the Year - Rodney Carney - who just might be the first choice of the Warriors in the NBA draft in June. Carney led the Tigers in scoring and 3-pointers and Memphis' up-tempo style under coach John Calipari is fun to watch and infectious. That's in stark contrast to defensive-minded UCLA, which lost to Memphis 86-80 in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament in New York.

Bradley is the new age Gonzaga, a suddenly celebrated school without a football team. The Braves hail from Peoria, Il. and the last time they were this good and advanced this far in the NCAA tournament, the late, great and long-time Sausalito resident Bill King was the play-by-play announcer for them in the mid-50s.

The Braves lost earlier this year at Missouri State, which beat Stanford in the NIT last week, but the biggest battle Bradley has encountered this year is from the NCAA. It put the Braves on its "hostile and abusive" nickname hit list. Bradley is appealing that ban through the NCAA Management Council.

The Braves will be the decided underdogs and media darlings in Oakland while Memphis will bring the fastest team and Gonzaga will start the most fascinating player in the game today. Still, UCLA will be the clear fan favorite, Lavin's favorite last week to make it to the Final Four.

"A month ago I thought UCLA was (only) capable of a Sweet 16 run because of the fact they were averaging only 66 points a game, their fewest in 46 years," Lavin said. "I didn't think they could make it to the Final Four."

Lavin now picks UCLA to go all the way to the title game, where he predicts they will meet UConn for the national championship in Indianapolis 11 years after they met for the regional championship in Oakland. He praises his successor at UCLA, Ben Howland, for making an adjustment to play freshman guard Darren Collison more with the Bruins' dynamic backcourt of Aaron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar.

"Now they have three or four play-makers on the floor at the same time. As a result, they're more efficient," Lavin said.

That, according to Lavin, puts them in the same category as Villanova this year and Illinois last year and even Arizona in 1997 when the Wildcats won the national championship. It's also a formula UCLA used in 1995 and tested in Oakland.

You know how that turned out.

Originally published in the Marin Independent Journal March 22, 2006
(reprinted with permission)



At Mar 22, 2006, 12:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1995 Remember UCLA'S Tyus Edney


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