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All in All, a Good Season for UCLA and Its New Coach

Curses. Heeled again.

Well, what are we to make of UCLA’s 88-81 loss Sunday to North Carolina, which ended the Bruins’ dreams of--as the saying goes--Recapturing the Golden Era? Did Jim Harrick’s baby bears do themselves proud against Dean Smith’s Tar Heels, or did they--as another saying goes--Blow a Golden Opportunity?

Depends on how you look at these things.

Yes, UCLA played well. The Bruins hustled and muscled and had the favored Heels right where they wanted them--down by as many as 10 points. They gave it the old college tournament try.

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No, UCLA did not play well. The Bruins caught Carolina on a bad day, a day without J.R. Reid, and still couldn’t come any closer than seven points.

So, what do you say, Bruin boosters? Were you proud of your boys? Or ready to toss a brick through the television screen?

Our opinion is:

(Pause for dramatic effect.)

Let’s be kind. Let’s be gentle. Let’s be grateful to the dead.

The Bruins worked their socks off. They gave what they had. They sent a couple of freshmen and a couple of juniors out there to challenge a Tar Heel team that, even without that old curfew-breaker J.R. Reid, was stocked with talent from Dean Smith’s elbow to the last seat on the bench.

What Sunday’s game did show was just how far UCLA still has to come. Taking Reid away from Carolina is tantamount to taking Hank Gathers away from Loyola Marymount. Look at how Illinois fell apart for a few weeks without Kendall Gill, and he was just a playmaking guard. Reid is big and powerful. He’s the La Brea of Tar Heels.

All UCLA could do was try. The spirit, however, was weaker than the flesh. Compared to other top college clubs, the Bruins’ front line looks skinny and soft. Trevor Wilson, Kevin Walker and Don MacLean worked long and hard to hold off North Carolina, but toward the end, the Heels seemed to muscle the ball underneath the basket at will.

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The play that really put UCLA away is one Harrick might watch a few hundred times on the game films, once he has the stomach for it. It is a play that might have prevented the Bruins’ first-year coach from pulling off the big upset and advancing to the Sweet 16.

Less than a minute remained when Carolina went into a four-corner offense, trying desperately to preserve a three-point lead. For no reason in particular, Jeff Lebo took it upon himself to dart toward the basket, driving for a lay-up.

Darrick Martin, the UCLA freshman guard, cut into Lebo’s path and planted himself. He appeared to be in perfect position to take a charge by Lebo, which would have turned the ball over to the Bruins with 44 seconds to play.

At the last instant, though, senior forward Charles Rochelin came flying from nowhere to go for the block. Rochelin fouled Lebo instead. The North Carolina guard made one of two free throws, putting four points’ distance between his team and the Bruins, who now had to score twice.

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Turned out they never scored again.

Well, many a tear has to fall, but it’s all in the game. You can’t blame Rochelin for doing his best. Had he blocked Lebo’s shot, they would have carried him on their shoulders all the way back to Los Angeles.

How was UCLA’s first season under Harrick? Not bad. There was no conference championship, but Arizona and Stanford ranked among the nation’s top teams. There were few scintillating upsets, but at least there was that funny phantom goaltending victory over Louisville. There also was a defeat at Arizona that was as lopsided as any UCLA team has ever endured, but the Bruins gave the nation’s No. 1 team fits at a later date.

High marks, overall.

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The only key player Harrick will lose for next season is Richardson, who improved steadily throughout his career, but still attempted to do too much--Senior Syndrome, we call it--with the game on the line against North Carolina. Toodle-ooh, Pooh, and thanks for the memories.

The entire starting front line returns, and MacLean should be a stud if he either lifts more barbells or eats more often at McDonald’s this summer. The kid needs some meat on his bones.

As for Martin, the freshman guard who at first was reluctant to play for UCLA, he should become better than Richardson in the long run--and maybe closer to sooner than later. Keep an eye on Harrick’s Darrick.

Meantime, North Carolina and North Carolina State move on, along with two other Atlantic Coast Conference teams and four from the Big Ten. It’s clear to see where college ball’s balance of power lies.

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As long as UCLA can’t win the championship, somebody has to. Who will that somebody be?

Arizona or Oklahoma, that’s who.

Tell the ACC and Big Ten to bring as many teams as they like. Ain’t gonna matter.


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