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Bruins Have Their Day

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They beat Stanford and the odds, and beat up the ghosts.

That was history the UCLA Bruins tamed Saturday. As if handling the No. 1 team in the nation wasn’t impressive enough, it came at the Maples Pavilion, which for three years had symbolized the decline of the UCLA program before it suddenly, and unexpectedly, turned into a different kind of historical landmark.

Along with the memory of Stanford 109, UCLA 61 on Jan. 9, 1997, now goes UCLA 94, Stanford 93, in overtime on March 4, 2000, the kind of victory that becomes part of lore. The kind of victory that helps overcome the past--the remembrances of the Maples Massacre, also known as That Day--as much as it is a salute the present.

Sean Farnham, the lone Bruin senior and the only player left from That Day, dressed in a corner of the sweltering visitors’ locker room at Maples Pavilion late Saturday, his minor role in the outcome doing nothing to diminish his major statement.

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“This is the sweetest win I’ve had since I’ve been in college,” said Farnham, who was there for the 1997 NCAA round-of-16 victory over Iowa State and ’98 second-round upset of Michigan.

Jim Saia, a UCLA assistant coach and one of the four members of the staff who were there That Day, stood along the baseline near the UCLA bench about 30 minutes after Saturday’s victory, not far from where the Bruins literally fell all over each other in spontaneous party, his eyes red from tears, his tie loosened and crooked from celebration.

“I just raised my hands and said: ‘Finally,’ ” Saia said. “Everybody was hugging. I just raised my hands to the sky.”

Steve Lavin, the coach That Day who had so much more to lose than a game Saturday--possibly a job--started crying almost as soon as he got in the locker room. He was overcome with what the moment meant, quickly to be comforted by the players in sort of a group hug. As if Saturday in Palo Alto were therapy.

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The Bruins were 19-point underdogs on the road, playing in a building amped by pre-game Senior Day festivities and the recognition of it being the final home game for a very popular Cardinal, Mark Madsen. They also played without their two big men, Dan Gadzuric and Jerome Moiso, the final 2:10 because of fouls, and won after trailing by 15 points early in the first half.

The only thing that made it better was the site, Maples Pavilion, the very scene of the ’97 mauling when Lavin was the interim coach after Jim Harrick’s sudden firing, and in the Bay Area, where he had grown up. Yes, that day.

Now, they have this day, a different kind of epic moment. UCLA 94, Stanford 93.

Farnham was asked if it erases the Maples Massacre.

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“For sure,” he said, without hesitation. “Neither team was No. 1 in the country that time. But they were No. 1 in the country today, we came in on their Senior Day and took something they wanted.

“It was just the way we competed and played with such heart and tenacity and never-say-die. That was something that erased the image of Jelani [McCoy], Toby [Bailey] and J.R. [Henderson] sitting on the bench and looking all glum with that picture on the front page of the L.A. Times the next day with that big score stripped across the top.”

109-61.

Now:

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94-93.

“Before,” Saia said, “we probably didn’t believe we could win here. Now, it shows everyone that we can win here. We have done it. It was a historic game for our staff to win here, just because we couldn’t beat Stanford, because we hadn’t. And we came in and beat them. They were the kings, we’re trying to get back there. But we beat the kings.”

In the strangest fashion--coming from way behind, with JaRon Rush scoring the final five points (including the game winner with three seconds left) in his return from a three-month suspension, with Moiso and Gadzuric having fouled out--but beat No. 1 they did.

To Lavin, recovering to beat Stanford at Pauley Pavilion later in that 1996-97 season went a long way toward pushing the Maples Massacre to the background. Of course, such recollections aren’t hurt by the fact that he was named permanent coach a couple days after that. But there was still no minimizing the impact of March 4, 2000.

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“Because of the kind of season this has been, it makes it such a special victory,” Lavin said, explaining the tearful postgame reaction. “You want your kids to be rewarded for having kept their chin up.

“I was so happy for JaRon because of what he had gone through, having basketball taken away from him for the first time in his life. And then hitting the big shot at Maples Pavilion. And collectively, it was kind of overwhelming emotionally to see our players experience a win against the No. 1 team in the country on the road, after the kind of season we have had.”

And, clearly, are still having.


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