The best college basketball team in the Los Angeles area can build on its postseason resume with a strong performance in a nationally televised game Saturday.
But enough about Long Beach State’s “BracketBuster” game against Creighton in Omaha.
UCLA is in New York to play St. John’s at 10 a.m. in Madison Square Garden. No tangible rewards await the winner of the game between the 15-11 Bruins and 10-16 Red Storm.
Still, UCLA Coach Ben Howland sees a marquee moment.
“We thought it would be good exposure for the two biggest media markets, and to have it on CBS in the Garden is special,” Howland said. “CBS is basically the network talking NCAA tournament and the national championship.”
The Bruins, tied for sixth in the Pac-12 Conference standings, are unlikely to be in those conversations; St. John’s is definitely out, unless it were to win the Big East tournament.
UCLA has played its share of these made-for-TV specials. The Bruins have a 24-18 record in similar games over the last 25 seasons. And perks do come with this trip, even if a victory would do little to improve the Bruins’ Ratings’ Percentage Index, which indicates a team’s postseason potential.
For one, it could help recruiting. The Bruins have already signed Kyle Anderson, a highly regarded 6-foot-8 guard from Fairview (N.J.) St. Anthony.
There’s also the thrill of playing at the Garden.
“We practiced in the Garden [Friday] and that was a big deal for our younger players,” Howland said. “Every great player who has played this game has played in the Garden.”
Said guard Jerime Anderson: “Madison Square Garden, it’s a Mecca. It’s a place you always want to play.”
Howland said UCLA coaches will wear sneakers on the sideline, as they did during Coaches vs. Cancer week in January. St. John’s Coach Steve Lavin, a former UCLA coach, underwent surgery for prostate cancer on Oct. 6.
Lavin will be in the arena, but has not coached St. John’s in a game since Nov. 18.
“We’re doing it in honor of Steve, for him being a cancer survivor,” Howland said. “We thought it would be appropriate with what he has been through.
“We want to create more awareness. A close friend of mine had breast cancer five years ago and it has returned. Everyone has had a loved one affected by cancer.”
Plenty of Lin-terest
Playing in Madison Square Garden brought New York Knicks wunderkind Jeremy Lin into the conversation.
Asked by a New York reporter about how the Bruins feel about “playing in the house Jeremy Lin built,” Howland said that the Bruins were well-versed in the whirlwind rise of Lin.
“Our players are way ahead of any of us,” Howland said. “They are all on Twitter following it.
“We were getting ready to play a week ago and the players were watching the Knicks play the Lakers. They were yelling and screaming and going crazy. A number of them were rooting for Jeremy.”
Not Anderson. When asked who was the No. 1 “great” to play Madison Square Garden, he responded: “Kobe.”
Guard Tyler Lamb’s hamstring injury will take about six weeks to heal, Howland said. Lamb played with the injury against USC on Wednesday.
Center Anthony Stover, who missed the last two games with a injured foot, practiced Friday and could play.