To redefine themselves as national title contenders, UCLA's Bruins might not face another game this basketball season more important than the one Saturday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion against No. 1 Kansas.
Unfortunately, John Wooden will not be in his usual second-row seat to see it.
He will be at the Pond of Anaheim for the Wooden Classic, matching Arizona against Utah and Louisville against Louisiana State.
That begs this question: Why aren't the Bruins playing in the Wooden Classic after being involved in the charity event the first two years?
And this one: Why would they schedule such an important game in direct conflict with the Wooden Classic?
UCLA officials offer one answer for both. They say that they scheduled a home-and-home series for the 1995-96 and '96-97 seasons with Kansas before there was a Wooden Classic. Last season, the dates for the two were a week apart.
This subject could be left there if the Bruins had committed to the Wooden Classic for next season. They haven't.
That doesn't mean they won't accept if invited. But they say they never agreed to play in the event every season and will decide from year to year whether it's a good fit for the team and the athletic department. It's a dollars-and-sense equation.
In saying that, they are aware that some people are going to scream that the Bruins should be a regular in the tournament as a tribute to Wooden. Such are the dilemmas athletic directors face in trying to steer their departments home in the black.
UCLA has met a No. 1 team only once in the '90s, losing, 75-65, to Duke at Pauley in 1992. Last season, Kansas became No. 1 the day after defeating UCLA, 85-70. . . .
On the agenda for this weekend's meeting of Pacific 10 Conference presidents, athletic directors and faculty representatives is whether to resume the postseason basketball tournament. This time, a women's tournament would be held in conjunction. . . .
USC's Rodrick Rhodes hopes for a less humbling experience in his second game against North Carolina on Friday night in the Harris Teeter Pepsi Challenge at Charlotte. Playing for Kentucky in the 1995 Southeast Regional final, Rhodes boasted he could shut down Jerry Stackhouse. Stackhouse had 18 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. Rhodes was two for 10 from the field and scored seven points. The Tar Heels won, 74-61. . . .
Harris Teeter was not a North Carolina statesman, war hero or basketball coach. It's the name of a well-known grocery store chain in the state. . . .
USC's tennis administrator, 73-year-old Bill Middleton, showed up for work this week with a tattoo on his right biceps. It reads: "11-30-96, SC 27-ND 20." . . .
Are you as tired as I am of sportscasters making those "I feel good" references every time Texas quarterback James Brown is on television? . . .
Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that the San Francisco 49er-Carolina Panther game in December would be described as a showdown? . . .
Best bet to become USA Track and Field's chief executive after Ollan Cassell's 31-year reign of error was ended this week is Nike's Steve Miller. Former shotputter, Cal athletic director and Atlanta Olympic official Dave Maggard would be another good choice. . . .
Japanese figure skater Midori Ito, aiming her comeback for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, has retired again. . . .
Who says the French love losers? The first five pages of France's sports daily, L'Equipe, on Monday and Tuesday were consumed by the Davis Cup triumph over Sweden. . . .
With George Karl ailing, assistant Terry Stotts coached Seattle in the loss Tuesday night to the Lakers. "He owed me one," Laker Coach Del Harris said. "I drafted him into the league when I coached the Rockets." Replied Stotts: "I did owe him, but I'd rather have bought him dinner."
Cooper coached Arizona State to a victory over Michigan in the 1987 Rose Bowl. If Ohio State prevails this time, it will be the first time anyone has coached winning teams in the game from both the Big Ten and Pac-10.
Snyder has not been a head coach in the Rose Bowl, but, as a high school student in El Monte, he drove a float in the Rose Parade.
In a news conference Wednesday in Pasadena involving the two coaches, Snyder addressed the polls that have his undefeated Sun Devils No. 2 behind undefeated Florida State.
"If we're fortunate enough to finish 12-0, I know we're going to receive one vote for No. 1," he said. "Mine."
"Two," Cooper told him.
While wondering whatever happened to Mark Landsberger, I was thinking: Kobe Bryant should play more, Dick Motta must really love this game, it'll be good to have Brett Butler back, John Elway should be the MVP, and instant replay should return to the NFL instantly.