The message to their madness was directed not at the opponent, which would have been understandable, but at a group that today may look like a proponent.
UCLA Bruins 90, Washington Huskies 64.
Six victories in a row after the debacle of the Arizona trip. A climb from seventh place to a tie for fourth in the Pacific 10 Conference.
Word came across loud and clear Saturday afternoon that the hottest team in the Pac-10 would storm into the NCAA tournament after all, closing out the regular season before 10,305 at Pauley Pavilion in dominating fashion, as opposed to the lethargic bunch that loitered through 38 minutes two nights earlier against Washington State.
Maybe the selection committee will notice. Maybe not merely beating Washington, but beating up Washington will be a last UCLA surge before the tournament pairings are finalized and announced today at 3:30.
“I think so,” said JaRon Rush, who made seven of nine shots and scored 15 points in 15 minutes. “I think this helps us a lot.”
Of course, given the impossible-to-predict task of the panel, maybe not. But helping a little could help a lot--the difference between being seeded seventh instead of eighth, for example, is the difference in avoiding a top-seeded team in the second round, if it came to that.
If nothing else, the events of Saturday will pay off in regained momentum, UCLA having asserted itself again rather than sleepwalk to the end of the regular season, and atmosphere, what with the party feel. Sean Farnham got his expected emotional departure as the lone senior in his final home game, and all the Bruins got a send-off for the tournament, a berth that now comes, finally, as a foregone conclusion with UCLA at 19-11 overall and 10-8 in conference.
Gone were the dead legs, or disinterested approaches, that caused a scare Thursday against the conference’s last-place team. In their place against another struggling team--Washington having started the day in a duel with Oregon State to avoid ninth place--came the UCLA that turned defense into easy transition baskets and controlled the game for long stretches, just like against Stanford and California and Oregon.
“I drilled them [in practice] Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, probably as hard as I have all year,” Coach Steve Lavin said. “I thought it was important that we got our heads out of the clouds after the big Stanford win. I’d rather wear them out than rust them out.
“I thought the message was more important than if we had our legs Thursday. But I knew we’d get our legs back in a couple days.”
That would have been Saturday. The Huskies (10-20, 5-13) stayed close for the first 12 minutes, trailing only 24-20, but then got run into the off-season, getting outscored, 23-7, to end the half.
That made it 47-27, never to get respectable again. It got as lopsided as 32 points, 79-47 with 7:01 remaining, assuring the Bruins early of victory and of not having to relive Jan. 6 in Seattle, the night their Pac-10 schedule got off to a brutal start with the memorable final minute of a 35-second violation, a decision not to use one of three available timeouts and a bad shot, leading to the 63-62 loss and a series of red eyes in the locker room.
What happened in the rematch, they said, was not a statement to Washington, or to themselves. They were too busy trying to avenge a season gone wrong to dwell on one game, painful as it might have been, and painful as it could really have been if the Bruins still felt like a bubble team and then missed out today.
Instead of revenge, in that case, they got more rest for the legs. No Bruin played more than the 25 minutes of Earl Watson, and he went only nine in the garbage time of second half. Jason Kapono lasted 22 minutes, long enough to get a game-high 18 points along with three steals, but eight points after the break.
It was that kind of day. Watson threw a lob off the backboard to a trailing Dan Gadzuric for a dunk. The Bruins spent a portion of the second half trying to get Farnham a basket, which came on a fall-away eight-footer in the lane with 7:01 remaining.
That goal achieved, they turned toward getting Brandon Brooks, the water polo goalie-turned-12th man, on the board. He missed all three shots, but made one free throw and had three rebounds and a steal in five minutes, the same amount he had played in the previous 10 games combined.
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Pac 10 Standings
Team W-L x-Arizona 15-3 Stanford 15-3 Oregon 13-5 UCLA 10-8 Arizona St. 10-8 USC 9-9 California 7-11 Oregon St. 5-13 Washington 5-13 Wash. St. 1-17 x--Arizona earns automatic NCAA berth because it beat Stanford twice this season
Saint Louis, using the momentum from an earlier upset of Cincinnati, won the Conference USA tournament and an NCAA berth.
USC 82 Washington St. 63
Trojans complete a sweep of Washington schools and must play waiting game to find out about an NIT berth. Page 9
COUNTDOWN TO MARCH MADNESS
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