He was looking for fun, but this was a real grind


SAN JOSE -- Now I understand why Kobe Bryant never played college basketball. A college coach would’ve probably stopped him from scoring.

While he was going for 60 in Memphis on Thursday night, UCLA and Pittsburgh were playing a physical chess match -- the Bruins taking forever to checkmate their opponent, 64-55, a viewing delight, I guess, for those who find hockey or soccer scintillating.

It seemed as if every time someone scored a basket, a timeout was called, both Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon apparently determined to pitch a shutout or get an immediate explanation for why someone just scored a goal.


Throw in the referees, who obviously wanted face time on national TV for this NCAA tournament game, and they whistled while they worked, all right, calling one foul per minute.

Howland and Dixon, meanwhile, worked the referees like an American Idol trying to curry Simon’s favor, and with about the same results. But that’s become as much a part of this college game now as trapping every dribbler and denying every entry pass. If you like defense and whining to go with it, you would’ve loved this bump-and-grind contest.

I don’t. I like watching Darren Collison, who Lamar Odom called “the best point guard in the country” earlier in the day on the morning radio show, shoot the ball. He took that opportunity twice in the first half. And hit both. If he’s going to limit himself to just two shots a half, well, he’d make an ideal teammate for Kobe.

Throw in Josh Shipp and Arron Afflalo along with Collison, though, and I’d like UCLA’s chances of still winning going three on five against Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh somehow managed to get to the Sweet 16 without any athletes, and certainly without any players with the skill to score with regularity. Pitt started a big oaf at center, who would’ve had trouble tossing the ball into the Pacific Ocean if allowed to stand on the end of the Santa Monica Pier. There’s a better chance he would have fallen into the water.

But still this was a chore, or Big East basketball, as they like it. It’s a bruising pull and tug game, while working the clock and controlling the tempo. Showtime it is not.

Howland, meanwhile, goes wild clapping his hands -- and I’m glad someone is allowed to go wild, holding his arms above his head, bending over and almost playing defense himself on every possession. I just wish every once in a while he’d leave his feet and make like a jump shooter.

Lorenzo Mata made a pair of free throws, and four rows back from courtside, Bill Walton came to his feet cheering. Maybe it just seemed like a good hour since the Bruins had scored last. I know this -- watching Walton stand up every time he liked what he saw, it’s a good thing the Bruins aren’t allowed to be more explosive, or I pity the poor guy who bought a ticket and found himself sitting behind the big gray head.

There’s no question the Bruins work hard to win, but it just seemed so unnecessary given their talent and the clods they were matched against from Pittsburgh. The Bruins were only in danger of losing a player -- the big oaf maybe falling on one of them -- but never in danger of losing this contest.

These games mean so much, of course, so every possession is given critical treatment, or must include at least four passes per Coach Norman Dale’s instructions. If you want to win, though, as anyone could tell you, just get the ball to Jimmy.

But not for these guys. Instead, it has to be a grind, and although the end result certainly favored UCLA and Howland has done a great job of bringing basketball success back to Westwood, I’ve got a feeling it would’ve been a lot more fun watching Kobe go for 60.

ST. LOUIS MANAGER Tony La Russa, arrested on a drunk-driving charge, posted bail and got out of jail. Then, according to the Associated Press, when La Russa walked onto the field before the Cardinals’ game, “many fans stood and applauded.”

Unless they were expressing their appreciation to La Russa for not killing someone while driving drunk, the fans certified themselves idiots, while also giving everyone another reminder how some sports fans consider their sports heroes god-like -- no matter what they do.

SPEAKING OF maybe drinking too much, the Dodgers ran a transcript of the Parking Lot Attendant’s Internet chat with fans this week and supposedly someone, who isn’t employed by the Dodgers, said to Frank McCourt: “I appreciate your visits to the TV booth to chat with Vin Scully. Do you plan to do that more often?”

Can’t wait for those.

AS FOR the problems with parking at the stadium and raising prices, someone asked McCourt about it and said, “A $5 increase is a big hit on families.”

McCourt responded but never dealt with the “big hit” to families.

” ... What we decided to do this off-season was take on the challenge of trying to fix it,” McCourt said. “Doubling the number of parking attendants is just one part of what it takes to attempt to fix the parking situation.... After you’ve experienced the new parking system, please give us your feedback if there are ways that you think we can further improve the parking situation.” Sure, go ahead and suggest more improvements so he ran raise the price to park even higher.

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR called and asked to return to the morning radio show a second straight day after bombing and coming off as an uncommunicative dolt in his debut. Apparently he wanted to prove it was no fluke. He was successful.

T.J. Simers can be reached at

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