They got together at 11:30 in the morning to shoot some hoops Saturday in Westwood, on a day when UCLA's excellent point guard, Jerome (Pooh) Richardson, worked one end of the court, while St. John's equally excellent point guard, Greg (Boo) Harvey, worked the other end. It might have been the only college basketball game ever played at which 2-year-old children could have spoken the players' names.
By the time St. John's 72-64 victory was in the bag, as things worked out, even the oldest spectators at Pauley Pavilion might have felt like saying "boo," and any number of them must have gone home feeling like pooh.
UCLA is 1-4.
That bears repeating. It is such a weird sentence to write and read, it probably needs to be printed twice, just so no one will think it's a typographical error. UCLA is 1-4. One. And. Four. As in one win in five games. As in Leapin' Wizards! John Wooden's 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968 and 1969 national champions lost a total of four games. His 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1975 national champions lost a total of four games.
Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end.
"When Coach Wooden was here," Richardson said after Saturday's game, "everybody on the team was an All-American. His first team was the No. 1 team in the nation, and his second team would have finished No. 2 in the nation."
Those were beautiful days in college basketball's empire of the sun. Of course, it was not always that way at UCLA. Back in 1945, when World War II was winding down, with college-aged men wearing camouflage fatigues for reasons having nothing to do with fashion, a Bruin basketball team began its season 1-6. It lost to the Carroll Shamrocks at Glendale High, and to Santa Ana Army Air Base, and to San Diego Naval Training Center, and to Camp Ross. It was a basketball season staged by Ernie Bilko.
The Bruins won their next game, holding Caltech to nine points, during an age in which Caltech's math majors had not yet figured out a way to rig the scoreboard. After that, though, UCLA was beaten by the ever-popular St. Mary's Pre-Flight, and then by a team from 20th Century Fox that may or may not have included Abbott and Costello. It was that kind of season. Although this one figures to turn out better, it is, nevertheless, the worst start by a UCLA basketball team in 42 years. And making matters even more embarrassing is that three of the Bruins' four losses have come at home. They have now been beaten here by St. John's, Brigham Young and Temple, while defeating only Oral Roberts--which means, perhaps, that the athletic department should start scheduling more Fundamentalists and fewer Catholics and Mormons.
Coach Walt Hazzard knows his team needs something. More desire. More execution. More talent. More something.
"We need to climb up out of this mud that we're crawling in right now," Hazzard said.
What UCLA needs most is to get its home-court advantage back. The thing about Pauley Pavilion is that opponents were beaten before they showed up. They knew UCLA not only would post Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton and Marques Johnson and David Greenwood at them, but would put a rowdy, sellout crowd in the stands, the sort that would greet a Notre Dame with an eerie, dirge-like humming of the Irish fight song.
Pauley Pavilion has been quiet as a library the last week or so. The crowd at Saturday's game was an announced 9,331 in a building that seats 12,543, and it was no factor. The studio audience at "Wheel of Fortune" makes more noise than these fans do. When Edwin Pauley from the board of regents forked over a million bucks of his own bread back in 1965, it was to finance a basketball arena, not a museum. UCLA crowds are supposed to be intimidating.
Well, maybe they simply do not have it in them, now that the basketball team itself is not intimidating. As a basketball team, the 1987-88 Bruins are not bad, and will get better. But their principal three-point shooter is a kid who is 6 feet 10 inches, and their 7-foot center spent 36 minutes on the floor against St. John's and took five shots. And the 6-1 Richardson outrebounded both of them.
Something is wrong, all right.
Richardson himself went away wondering how you can lose to a team that is "not as talented as you are," although that is a bit presumptuous when referring to an opponent that has won 5 of 6. And Pooh pooh-poohed the notion that the Bruins might not be preparing themselves well enough, saying, "I'm sure we've worked twice as hard in practice as any team we've played."
Maybe only a wizard can figure out what's wrong in Westwood.
"I really wish I had the solution," Richardson said. "I'd do something about it. You have to be confident out there, I know that. Maybe some players feel they aren't confident."
The coach, Hazzard, intends to hang in there, keep searching for the answer, emphasizing that he is disappointed, not discouraged. One thing Walt might wonder is why some teams have trouble shooting free throws in front of hostile fans, but St. John's sank 18 of 18 in front of a UCLA crowd that wouldn't say boo, much less pooh.
You can excuse the coach if he couldn't quite come up with the response he wanted when somebody asked him what the Bruins can do about their slump.
"The best thing that can happen," Hazzard said, and this is an exact quote, "is to get some recent success."