Showtime finally arrived Sunday for UCLA's Bruins, who got a struggling team from a major program in their building, in the person of Louisville's Cardinals, and blew them apart before a national-television audience.
Led by Reggie Miller, the young man who can, too, outplay his sister, the Bruins ran up a 22-point lead and coasted to a 75-65 victory before a modest gathering of 9,231 in Pauley Pavilion. They have now won four games in a row, making them 13-11 as they head back into Pacific 10 play.
They play USC here Thursday night. UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard left the floor, joining the student body's chant of "USC! USC!"
After that, the Bruins play Arizona and Oregon State, also in Pauley. What happened Sunday may have been good for the program's image, but the season starts Thursday.
Miller scored 27 points, a career high, and took eight rebounds, tying a game high. He made 12-of-16 shots, including all six he took in the second half. He had all his points with 13:21 left in the game and didn't take another shot.
"He's getting like Jamaal Wilkes used to be," Hazzard said, "Strokes of death. Every time he makes one, it's like a stab in the heart."
Miller, of course, was identified in a Sports Illustrated caption as the Bruin who couldn't even beat his sister. That was back in the days when the Bruins were taking their nationally televised lumps, at DePaul, at Memphis State, at St. John's.
His sister is the noted Trojan, Cheryl. Their father is the former Air Force master sergeant, Saul, their coach to this day and not their easiest one. Reggie has been heard praying to himself after a bad performance that Saul wouldn't bomb him. But it was Saul who spotted something funny in Reggie's delivery and got him out of his recent slump.
"My father told me, when I was shooting, I was jerking my hand back," Miller said.
Presumably in an effort to correct this, Reggie kept his hand in a follow-through position all the way back down to the other end of the floor after making his final shot Sunday.
As hard as Saul is, his children are high-spirited to a fault. Cheryl's oncourt celebrations have had opponents muttering for two years. Reggie is no slouch himself, snake-dancing on-court after a layup in the USC game, occasionally tossing the man guarding him the basketball after he has scored.
"When we were growing up, he was real strict," Reggie says. "It was 'yes sir, no sir.' But the man definitely knows what he's talking about. He played at Hamilton High in Memphis, Tenn. They called him Snake. He was something. We've read the clippings.
"Right before every game, I'll call home and he'll give me instructions. Then I'll call after the game. He can tell from watching on TV what I'm doing. He was the one who put my shot together.
"When I got that technical at Washington State? I didn't want to talk to him that time. I knew exactly what he was going to say. It was a good thing it was by telephone.
"What does he expect? I'm sure he expects me to go pro. Basically, he wants to see me get a college education. I'm sure one day he wants to see me on the silver screen, like, 'Hey, that's my son.' So he can go to the movies for free."
The Millers' Sunday was helped in no small measure by Denny Crum, the ex-Bruin who coaches Louisville. Crum sent his Cardinals out in a zone defense. One thing the Bruins can do is shoot over zones.
Miller and Montel Hatcher riddled this one. By the time Crum switched into a man-to-man, Miller was too hot for Manual Forrest or Billy Thompson to cool down. Crum finally sent the Cardinals out in a diamond-and-one and had Jeff Hall follow Miller everywhere he went. By that time, Hazzard was preparing his victory remarks.
Hazzard: "I guess they haven't seen us play much."
Miller: "We saw their films last night and they played tough man-to-man. I came out and saw that zone and said, 'My goodness.' "
Crum: "They're so much quicker than we are, I didn't think we matched up real well. We went man-to-man and we didn't handle that situation well, either. If they weren't hitting their outside shots, we had a good chance. We wanted them to take those outside shots. We didn't want them to make 'em all. But those aren't shots you make every day."
Even so, Crum isn't used to conceding so much. But in the absence of the injured Milt Wagner and Kevin Walls, he now has a backcourt that consists of Hall, a slow, shooting guard, and Thompson, a big forward.
Consequently, this is nothing like a Crum team. It can't press, or play man-to-man. And the old spectacle of three Doctors of Dunk with their belly buttons at rim level, challenging any shot taken around the basket, has been replaced by a new one: two Cards jumping while 6-11 center Barry Sumpter watches.
The Cards are still good enough to have beaten nationally ranked DePaul and North Carolina State, though as Crum pointed out, those games were at home. This may have been Crum's old home, but that wasn't good enough.
With the scored tied, 8-8, the Bruins hit seven shots in a row, the first three by Hatcher, and scored 15 straight points. The only question left was whether it would be a rout. It was, until the big Louisville finish. It was big enough for the Bruins.
On Joel Meyers' pregame show, Walt Hazzard volunteered that Louisville was one rivalry that would last forever. A listener quoted Hazzard as adding, "Some rivalries may not, except USC." This raised the question of which rivalry would not last forever? Notre Dame, perhaps? Hazzard: "We won't talk about it right now. We'll bask in the glow of this victory." . . . UCLA Athletic Director Peter Dalis: "The Notre Dame game is in no trouble with me and I make up the schedule. Digger (Phelps) is a benign tension, which is good for the game." . . . Like an elephant, a Bruin never forgets: A fan sitting in the student body flashed a banner in front of the NBC cameras that said, "Digger is a wimp." . . . Billy Thompson led Louisville with 22 points, including one basket on which he dribbled the length of the floor, went behind his back, cut between two Bruins and tossed in a finger roll while being fouled. He also had two blocks and three assists. Nigel Miguel: "I tried one jump hook and he erased it. He's a great athlete." . . .