Only when buttoned-down Pauley stopped bouncing like a teenager, only when the towel boys stopped wiping the floor and Dick Vitale stopped screaming and players on both teams stopped bleeding . . . only then did UCLA appreciate the true measure of Sunday’s 73-69 victory over Duke.
They returned to their locker room. They looked down at their white uniforms. Their eyes widened.
The pants and shirts were covered in blue splotches, like they had just played 40 minutes with ink pens.
“It was different,” said Kris Johnson.
It was paint. Blue body paint, from the bodies of some lacquered fans who had rushed the floor with the mob and embraced them.
“Don’t know how you get this stuff off,” said Johnson, chuckling as he rubbed a swatch of his pants together.
Don’t know why you would want to.
Keep it there, look at it in a couple of weeks when you are heading off to an NCAA tournament, maybe thinking about doing a spell check on Indianapolis.
The paint will remind you of the day it all came back.
The respect. The dignity. The fever.
After two seasons of turmoil and embarrassment, UCLA fits into its old clothes again. It is surrounded by its old friends. It can dream its old dreams.
This will happen when you score the last six points of a game against one of college basketball’s smartest and toughest teams.
This will happen when you work that team so hard, they are left gasping and sweating and sticking to the floor.
During Steve Lavin’s postgame speech in the locker room, he noticed senior guard Cameron Dollar waving his hand.
“That is the sign for a senior who wants to talk,” Lavin said.
The coach surrendered the floor, and for the next few moments, the players were given some perspective.
“This is where we’re supposed to be,” Dollar reportedly announced while nursing a swollen, bloody lip with a cold towel. “It’s taken us two months of hard work to get here, but this is where we should be.”
Back in control of its NBA abilities and young-adult emotions.
Back in front a crowd raucous enough to remind the Bruins that what they are doing is not about just them.
How loud was the largest gathering--13,478--in Pauley Pavilion history?
So loud, J.R. Henderson said: “My ears hurt. I mean, they really hurt. Usually they just hurt on the road.”
So loud, Johnson grabbed a season-high eight rebounds with an injured right ankle that was “killing” him on Saturday.
“I guess the adrenaline must have jumped right into it, because most of the time, I didn’t feel a thing,” Johnson said. “I looked over into our crowd and saw those painted faces and heard them screaming and I’m thinking, ‘This looks like a program. Like Duke or Kansas.”
It was so loud that for the first time in two seasons, UCLA solo radio broadcaster Chris Roberts worked the game with headphones on both ears.
“Usually I keep one off to hear the crowd, but this time, they were just too much,” he said.
The Bruins responded with the sort of under-the-sink heroics usually found at, well, at Duke.
Charles O’Bannon didn’t score a point in the last five minutes, but nobody effected the game more.
He tipped and stole an entry pass from Ricky Price with 40 seconds remaining, then knocked Price’s shot to Santa Monica with 10 seconds remaining.
When his family sang “Happy Birthday” to him from the stands as he greeted them after the game, it was the only part of his afternoon that didn’t make sense. His 22nd birthday was Saturday.
“Huge for us,” O’Bannon said.
Then there was Brandon Loyd. When is the last time the three-point expert played 11 minutes and didn’t attempt a shot? When was the last time it didn’t matter?
He was one of the guys who helped hold Duke’s leading scorer Trajan Langdon without a point until 11:54 remained in the game.
“Even I was playing defense out there,” Loyd said. “If I’m playing defense, that’s saying something.”
The eventual game-winning shot coming on J.R. Henderson’s second effort.
Johnson pushing Jeff Capel out of bounds for a rebound.
Toby Bailey tying up Capel, taking the ball because of the possession arrow.
All in the final minute. All little things. UCLA things.
One of the most important contributions by Lavin was something he didn’t say.
With 3:31 remaining and UCLA holding a one-point lead, Henderson was called for charging even though he had barely pushed a backpedaling Roshown McLeod.
The crowd roared its disagreement. Lavin looked to the sky, held his head. But then he calmed. His team calmed. This wouldn’t have happened last year.
This wouldn’t have happened two months ago.
“Two months ago we lose this game by, what, 12 or 15 points?” Johnson said.
A kid in rumpled shirt and baggy pants was mingling among the UCLA players as they dressed afterward.
As the kid walked past Jelani McCoy, the center tapped his back and smiled.
“So,” he shouted, “you still going to Duke?”
The kid smiled back, mumbled something, and kept walking.
He was top high school point guard Baron Davis of Santa Monica.
The bandwagon is more than big enough.