This matchup is seldom boring

ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

UCLA and USC bashed each other's banners out Wednesday, in the two major revenue sports, from sunrise to well past Rick Neuheisel screaming to a pumped up halftime crowd at Pauley Pavilion.

UCLA basketball was embarrassing USC basketball, 44-21.

"We're going to the top!" said the man in the beige jacket who last year coached UCLA football to 4-8.

Neuheisel didn't say exactly when his program was going to get there.

With the Lakers literally out of the country, February in L.A. can't get much better than this.

Wednesday was like a sprawling bar fight, except in reverse. It started outside on the mean streets of football recruiting and then moved inside the saloon doors of a fabled basketball arena.

"This building was electric," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said after the Bruins' 76-60 win.

There were carpet shocks and hand-checks and hard picks and double switches going on all day, everywhere.

Sometime before midnight and after deadline, a Bruin somewhere probably slugged a Trojan and called it a day.

Steals? Someone should have called Sgt. Friday.

UCLA, in football, in the late afternoon, picked USC of a top recruit, receiver Randall Carroll, from Los Angeles Cathedral.

The Bruins really pulled a fast one because, not only does Carroll share the same name with USC's football coach, the kid is supposedly the swiftest thing on two feet in California.

At the basketball game, just before halftime, UCLA center Alfred Aboya wrestled a ball away from USC's Taj Gibson and pitched it to freshman Jrue Holiday for a layup that gave the Bruins a 23-point lead at the break.

USC had its share of steals too, in fact 13 in the basketball game to UCLA's nine.

In football, the Trojans won back defensive back Byron Moore, from Harbor City Narbonne, who originally committed to UCLA, switched to USC, waffled on that choice, and then officially moved back to USC's side.

In basketball, UCLA got the Pauley crowd home in time for KTLA's 10 o'clock news.

UCLA's Nikola (Dragovic) outplayed USC's Nikola (Vucevic) by a long shot, in fact a lot of them, with Dragovic's four three-point baskets in the first half effectively dictating what kind of night it was going to be.

With about 7:47 left, Bruins wing Josh Shipp looked like a Boeing jumbo jet when he went wheels up for the slam dunk that made a comeback impossible.

"We definitely feel the energy," Shipp said. "It was there from the tip-off."

It was a typical day for UCLA basketball and a really good one for UCLA football.

"Great recruiting year for UCLA football!" Howland chimed at the end of his news conference.

But it's only one day out of 365, whereas USC football has gone years without a bad one.

USC nailed UCLA again this year in the fall sport, and has won seven straight Pac-10 football titles. The Trojans claim national championships going back to the last Great Depression.

UCLA's win on Wednesday gave basketball a series sweep this season. Howland's Bruins suddenly have that Final Four look again.

Meanwhile, on the Western front. . . .

"Today we signed an unbelievable class, a class you can be proud of," UCLA's football coach crowed.

(USC reaction: We sign one every year).

"We need to try to find a way to get used to that in every sport!" Neuheisel said as he gazed up from midcourt at a lopsided score.

USC vs. UCLA . . . it never ends.

Loose ends

Sorry Dick Vitale. Bob Knight is a great coach, and says he would return to coaching in the right situation, but Knight to Georgia would be a terrible idea.

Never mind Knight was never known as an aggressive recruiter, an absolute imperative in the ruthless Southeastern Conference. It has also been noted by some that Georgia President Michael Adams is longtime friends with Myles Brand, the NCAA executive director who, while president at Indiana, fired Knight in 2000.

And Adams has already made one hiring mistake involving a coach with a national title on his resume . . . former UCLA coach Jim Harrick.

Bottom liners: The worst teams in Division I by record, at 1-22, are Loyola Marymount of the West Coast Conference and independent New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).

But why dwell on the negative?

LMU's lone bright spot: a Jan. 4 home win over Cal State Bakersfield, 72-69, in which the Lions overcame a 17-point deficit and were led by Jarred Dubois' 39 points.

NJIT's happy tune: The Highlanders on Jan. 21 ended a 51-game losing streak with a 61-51 win over Bryant College.

No smoke puffs from Walnut Creek. The Pac-10 is keeping a tight lid on the successor for Tom Hansen, retiring as commissioner in July after 26 years, but you can scratch former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice off the list. A spokesperson for Rice told the Seattle Times that Rice was approached about the job but has decided to return to Stanford to teach. Connection: Stanford President John Hennessy is heading the search. No word as to whether former vice president Dick Cheney might be interested.

Ohio State Coach Thad Matta called an early time out Tuesday after the Buckeyes fell behind Purdue, 10-2, in Columbus. What Matta said he told his players: "Honestly, fellas, I don't know if you knew this or not, but the game's started." Ohio State rallied to win.

Notre Dame has been reeling of late but Saturday's intersectional matchup at UCLA should offer some glimpse as to how the Pac-10 stacks up to the Big East. "I think so," Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar said. "The nation is watching and the Big East is a much talked-about conference. . . . For UCLA to do well against them, I think definitely helps our conference cause for postseason."

Few tears were shed in Palo Alto when Trent Johnson bolted Stanford last year for Louisiana State, but it seems the man can coach. LSU is 17-4 overall and leading the SEC West. The Tigers were 13-18 last year under John Brady and lost a top incoming recruit, center J'mison Morgan, to UCLA. USC Coach Tim Floyd, who was raised in the south, said Johnson is getting "rave reviews" from the locals. The food isn't bad, either. "He told me he likes the shrimp po boys," Floyd said.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

THE TIMES' TOP 25

Chris Dufresne's rankings and comments:

Rk.; Team (Rec.); Comment

1 CONNECTICUT

21-1 School nickname: Huskies. State insect: European mantis. (1)

2 OKLAHOMA

22-1 Hoop comment "blackout" ordered to honor National Football Signing Day. (3)

3 N. CAROLINA

20-2 Made 16 threes in win over Maryland, or was it three 16s? (5)

4 MARQUETTE

20-2 Ladies and gents . . . meet the last unbeaten team in the Big East. (9)

5 CLEMSON

18-2 First regular-season win against Duke since 1997 . . . seems like 1897. (14)

6 XAVIER

19-2 No way team's Jewish fans are going to miss Temple on Thursday. (10)

7 LOUISVILLE

17-4 Connecticut defeat known in the bank (shot) business as a reality check. (6)

8 DUKE

19-3 ACC orders random inspection after team scores 47 points. (1)

9 WAKE FOREST

17-3 Deacons seemed a bit zoned out in loss to Miami. (2)

10 MEMPHIS

19-2 Rankman sends a happy 50th straight C-USA win Hallmark card. (19)

11 MICHIGAN ST.

17-4 What's this, Spartans finally win a game at home? (9).

12 UCLA

18-4 Pauley was so electric Rankman got carpet shock. (18)

13 VILLANOVA

18-4 Began the week No. 17 in nation and sixth place in the Big East. (12)

14 PITTSBURGH

20-2 Rebounder DeJuan Blair named school's chairman of the boards. (13)

15 PURDUE

17-5 You lost at Ohio State. Big deal. Get the Olentangy over it. (15)

16 BUTLER

19-2 No shame losing to Wisconsin Green Bay/Milwaukee/La Crosse or Whitewater. (16)

17 SYRACUSE

18-5 Ends three-game losing streak at home with win over West Virginia on Wednesday. (17)

18 GONZAGA

16-4 Zags got a break against St. Mary's when Mills broke his hand. (24)

19 WASHINGTON

16-5 Football team may have committed violation while you were reading this. (21)

20 TEXAS

15-6 Loss to Missouri raised six (red) flags over Texas. (8)

21 ILLINOIS

18-4 Call them Almost-Point-A Minutemen after scoring 36 against Minny. (22)

22 UTAH STATE

21-1 Facing possible legal charges for "running away with the WAC." (25)

23 ARIZONA ST.

16-5 Uh-oh, could be a fade pattern, sort of like the football team. (11)

24 MINNESOTA

18-4 Ralph Sampson III had X points and VII boards last week against Illinois. (NR)

25 KANSAS

18-4 The name definitely rings a bell. Nickname is Jayhawks, right? (NR)

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