Bring in the Trojans and the seats fill at Pauley Pavilion. Fewer than 200 tickets were available Tuesday for tonight’s game against rival USC and a sellout is expected by game time.
UCLA has drawn poorly at home this season. Attendance was less than 7,000 against San Diego, Long Beach State, Northern Arizona and Portland.
A nonconference game against Michigan on Dec. 21 drew 10,000, but the Bruins lost and the fans went home disappointed.
“I told the kids we get what we deserve,” Coach Steve Lavin said. “Fans come when we deserve to have fans and don’t come when we don’t deserve to have fans.”
Deserving or not, the Bruins will have a full house against USC.
“It’s big because of bragging rights, because of tradition,” Lavin said. “There isn’t the focus that there is in football, but it’s still a big game. It’s usually an exciting game, there are so many alumni and boosters, there is definitely a buzz in the town.”
One reason Bruin forward Jason Kapono scored a career-high 44 points against Washington State is that he equaled a season high by taking 19 shots.
One reason he has shot poorly in other games is that he stops shooting when he misses a few. When he has shot fewer than 12 times, he has made only 35%.
“He’s always had the green light as bright as the Emerald City,” Lavin said. “He’s just unselfish. At certain stretches of the game when he’s feeling it, we have to keep milking it.”
Kapono made 14 of 19 against Washington State. In the other game he took 19 shots -- against Long Beach State -- he made 12.
“When I’m in a rhythm my teammates notice and I get more shots,” he said.
Dijon Thompson has not started since the second game, yet he is the second-leading scorer behind Kapono. Now that the sophomore forward’s knee is healed, should he be in the lineup at the opening tip?
“I don’t necessarily feel we are better served with him starting,” Lavin said. “I look at him as a starter. He might start [tonight]. So whether he starts this game or doesn’t, he knows he’ll get starter’s minutes and starters looks.
“He’s as strong a weapon as we have on the team. I wouldn’t pigeonhole him as a sixth man.”
UCLA freshman forward Marcedes Lewis, a tight end on the football team, began practicing Monday and will suit up for the first time tonight.
He is not expected to play until he becomes familiar with the offense, but he has already made an impact in practice.
“He’s a strong beast,” Kapono said.
Barring what he called “a miracle” recovery overnight, USC senior point guard Robert Hutchinson’s sore right ankle will not allow him to play tonight.
And he insisted that he was not pulling a Donovan McNabb and limping to catch the Bruins off guard.
“No, not at all,” Hutchinson said before the Trojans’ second practice Tuesday afternoon. “It’s very disappointing because it’s our rival we’ll be playing and I want to be out there helping the team.”
A doctor’s appointment scheduled for Tuesday morning was postponed to today and Hutchinson fears that he may need another X-ray.
“But the trainer [Mark Pocinich] said that if there were bone chips in there that it would be hard and it’s not,” Hutchinson said. “I just get no lift [from the foot].”
Hutchinson has twice sprained the ankle this season and has not practiced fully or played since a pile of players rolled up his leg on Dec. 21. He had hoped to return today.
Pauley Pavilion is only 15 miles from the Sports Arena, but with two games at the Washington schools already under their belts, the Trojans are opening Pacific 10 Conference play with three consecutive road games for the first time since 1991. And it doesn’t bother Coach Henry Bibby.
“You know it’s tough, but I thought they were three very winnable games for us,” he said. “We’re getting on the road early and hopefully it’s given us a little character.”
For the first time in school history, the Trojans have scheduled nonconference games for the weekends after their games against UCLA. USC will play host to Pennsylvania on Saturday at the Forum, then will play at Nevada Las Vegas on Feb. 9.
The trend should continue next season, when the Trojans are tentatively scheduled to play at Wisconsin and play host to UNLV after facing UCLA.
Other nonconference games tentatively scheduled next season: home against Montana, Ohio, Duquesne and Lafayette; and at Brigham Young, La Salle and Rutgers.