St. John's forward Matt Brust spent the first few minutes of Thursday night's practice gawking at the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship banners hanging from the rafters at Pauley Pavilion. And that was that.
By the time the nationally televised game against UCLA began Saturday morning, those dusty old banners were long forgotten. Or, at least, not a distraction.
St. John's is establishing its own tradition in this rivalry. St. John's 72-64 victory was its fourth straight over the Bruins.
Shelton Jones, a senior forward for the Redmen, has a record of 4-0 against UCLA. He's 2-0 at Pauley Pavilion. And he waltzed out of the place Saturday with 17 points and 14 rebounds.
Grimacing, Bruin guard Pooh Richardson suggested that everyone stop talking about what happened in the past and get a little bit realistic about what to expect from this UCLA team.
And there are many who think this team has promise despite the four-game losing streak and 1-4 start.
UCLA hasn't started 1-4 since the 1945-46 season. It's the first time UCLA has lost three straight nonconference games in Pauley Pavilion. And it's the first time UCLA has lost three consecutive games at home, with no road games in between.
Is there reason for optimism?
There are three sophomores--Kevin Walker, Trevor Wilson and Greg Foster--on the Bruin front line, and all three show signs of potential. Walker made his first start at forward in place of junior Charles Rochelin. All of their last three losses have been to good teams, and the Bruins have been in every game.
UCLA had this one tied, 55-55, with a little more than four minutes to play. But St. John's guard Michael Porter, who finished with a team-high 18 points, sank a 10-foot jumper from the right baseline; then Jones picked up a loose ball underneath the Bruin basket and fed center Marco Baldi, who scored, was fouled and made the free throw.
Back at the Bruin end, a pass from forward Wilson to center Foster sailed out of bounds, and the next two points were scored by Jones on free throws after Foster picked up his third foul.
St. John's was ahead by seven.
As UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard was saying earlier in the week, there comes a point in every game when you either take control or let it get away.
"The game was right there for us. We just have to learn how to win," Hazzard said Saturday.
St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca said much the same thing about the young UCLA club, carrying his comments well past the obligatory kind words.
Carnesecca said: "This is going to be a good club. It's just in the development stage. They played excellent defense that kept them in the game. The right components are there. What they need is a little time. You can't rush them. They need time to get to know each other. Technically, they did everything well.
"They're very quick. We knew we couldn't afford to get into a running game with them. We had to control the tempo."
St. John's guards--both transfer students from San Jacinto College--did a good job of controlling the tempo. And St. John's, as a team, showed patience and good shot selection, making 52.9% of its shots, compared to 41.3% for UCLA.
And St. John's really helped itself with 18-for-18 free-throw shooting, a school record.
Carnesecca also said: "There were many times my guys could have folded, but they kept coming back."
Which is to say that the Bruins, too, kept after it. The Bruins trailed by as many as seven points in the first half but came back to tie it. They played tireless defense, pressing every time the Redmen tried to bring the ball up the court. (As Carnesecca says, everyone presses these days, "They're all tailors.")
But the Bruins are hurt by inconsistency, especially among the younger players. Even senior guard Dave Immel had an off day, making just 1 of 5 shots and getting only 2 assists. Richardson led the team with 22 points and had 6 assists.
"It's disappointing at this point," Hazzard said. "But I still think this will be a good season before it's all said and done. We'll get it together."
UCLA will play its fourth straight home game Monday night against Pennsylvania and will be at home again Thursday night against UC Irvine.