It’s goodbye, for now.
UCLA bids farewell Saturday to its basketball home of the last 46 years, with plans to return to Pauley Pavilion after renovations are completed in the fall of 2012.
In a fortuitous development, the Bruins will also get a chance to say hello to first place in the Pacific 10 Conference. USC’s 65-57 upset of No. 10 Arizona on Thursday moved UCLA (20-8, 11-4 Pac-10) to within a game of the Wildcats (23-5, 12-3) heading into the Bruins’ home finale against the conference leaders.
That means an afternoon that already figured to be sentimental for UCLA could be revved into emotional overdrive.
“It’s bigger than any player out there wearing a jersey,” sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt said.
UCLA is breaking out retro uniforms from the 1963-64 team, the first to win a national title under John Wooden. Some Bruins will wear matching fluorescent yellow sneakers that they debuted against Arizona State on Thursday.
Others, maybe not.
“They’re ugly,” sophomore forward Reeves Nelson said. “I won’t wear them in public.”
Whatever ensemble the Bruins choose should get plenty of exposure. A sellout crowd is expected, with fans encouraged to wear blue to enhance the home-court edge. Denny Crum is among the players from UCLA’s 1970-71 national championship team scheduled to be introduced at halftime.
As far as Coach Ben Howland is concerned, there is one person missing who could complete the experience: Wooden, who died in June at 99.
“I’m really sorry that Coach isn’t going to be here,” Howland said. “I mean, that really in a way hurts because I would have loved for him to be here for this last game in the building that he opened. … But I’m sure he’ll be watching down on us.”
With the 11 national title banners hanging over them in the arena that Wooden built and star players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Marques Johnson and so many others sustained, the Bruins realize they must resist the temptation to become too emotionally charged.
“We can’t come out over-hyped because sometimes that can come back and bite us in the butt,” junior guard Malcolm Lee said, “so we just have to come out with intensity, but not over-intense.”
A victory over Arizona could catapult UCLA into the national rankings and improve its seeding for the NCAA tournament. It could also quash the perception that the Bruins can’t beat super-athletic teams such as the Wildcats, Washington and Villanova.
Sophomore forward Derrick Williams appeared to be on another plane the last time UCLA and Arizona met, carving up the Bruins’ defense for 22 points during the Wildcats’ 85-74 victory in Tucson.
Howland said double-teaming Williams was not an attractive option because it would leave open several of the most accurate shooters in the Pac-10. Forward Solomon Hill is making 44.4% of his three-pointers and swingman Kevin Parrom is making 43.5%, to say nothing of Williams’ conference-leading 62.8%.
Williams was held to a season-low eight points Thursday against USC, so he undoubtedly will be seeking a bounce-back effort against UCLA.
“Good players, you can’t hold them to zero points,” Bruins freshman center Joshua Smith said, “but we just want to make it as tough as possible on him as we can.”
Some might say the Bruins are making it unnecessarily difficult on themselves by vacating Pauley Pavilion for a year and playing at a hodgepodge of venues that Howland has dubbed “a road show.” Howland said it’s a necessary detour for the long-term good of the program.
UCLA’s lineup will look dramatically different the next time it plays on campus, with freshman center Anthony Stover possibly the only starter back. In the meantime, the Bruins seek one final tribute for their storied basketball venue.
“We want to make sure we send Pauley out the right way,” junior guard Lazeric Jones said.