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The Sports Report: UCLA expects more of itself in NCAA men’s tournament

Tyger Campbell
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Ben Bolch on UCLA men’s basketball: John Wooden would have admired this weary, worn, fading team.

Instead of lamenting UCLA’s three consecutive collapses, the venerable coach would have trumpeted the Bruins building back-to-back-to-back leads against more athletic and veteran-laden opponents.

Instead of noting how the team shriveled on the verge of the Pac-12 tournament, he would have touted it nearly winning the conference’s regular-season title without its go-to scorer or top interior defender, leaving no NBA-ready players.

John Wooden signs autographs between games during the Wooden Classic in Anaheim in 1999.

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Anyone who doubts that the late Wooden would have embraced the current Bruins only needs to take a stroll on campus, stopping at the statue of the coach outside Pauley Pavilion. Below the bronzed likeness of Wooden, arms folded across his chest, hand clutching his trusty rolled-up program, is a plaque bearing one of his favorite sayings.

“Success is peace of mind,” the quote reads, “which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

Something similar was said inside Pauley Pavilion last weekend. UCLA coach Mick Cronin sounded like he was parroting his legendary predecessor, providing sage solace after his team’s latest stumble sent the Bruins (17-8) staggering into a Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal against Oregon State (14-12) on Thursday afternoon at T-Mobile Arena.

“We’re playing as well as we can play,” Cronin said after USC guard Tahj Eaddy’s three-pointer gave the Trojans a 64-63 victory in the regular-season finale and served as a dagger through the hearts of the Bruins. “We just played three really good teams we played really well. That’s my opinion. I’m helping them as much as I can help. The goal now is to make sure they don’t quit fighting, because we’re overachieving. They’re giving everything they got. My fear is they run out of gas.”

“I mean, they’re doing all they can, buddy,” Cronin told a reporter inquiring about what he could do to help his players. “I just got to keep them fighting.”

How has he gone about it over the last few days, besides giving his players a rare two-day break?

“He just says, ‘We‘ve got to keep going,’” point guard Tyger Campbell said. “He says we’re playing good, but obviously what we’re doing isn’t good enough.”

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MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Bill Shaikin on minor league baseball: Three months after Major League Baseball threw the Lancaster JetHawks out of the California League, the team has thrown in the towel.

“The JetHawks are no longer in business,” Lancaster City Manager Jason Caudle said Wednesday.

Caudle said the team and the city have reached agreement to terminate the JetHawks’ lease at the city-owned ballpark known as the Hangar. He declined to share the terms of the agreement before the city council confirms it.

However, he blasted MLB officials for what he called a broken pledge to keep baseball in Lancaster, even after streamlining the minor leagues by stripping 43 teams of their affiliation with a major league team. The city’s lease with the JetHawks had extended through 2024.

“They didn’t follow through on their promise to this community,” Caudle said. “They didn’t follow through on their promise to these fans. That’s the reality of it, and it’s all for the benefit of billionaire franchise owners.”

MLB officials dispute that characterization. The league attempted to facilitate an agreement between the city and the Pecos League, a bare-bones independent league, for a team to play in Lancaster this year.

The Pecos League took the possibility seriously enough to plan for a team with a new nickname — the Lancaster Sound Breakers — and feature a logo and merchandise for what the league called “a proposed expansion team.”

“We 100% wanted to go there,” Pecos League commissioner Andrew Dunn said Wednesday.

Many of the minor league teams that lost their affiliations joined established independent leagues, three of which formed partnerships with MLB. There is no such league near Southern California, and besides, the JetHawks had made clear they would not consider the independent ball option.

“I’m not interested in independent baseball,” JetHawks general manager Andy Dunn told The Times last year. “We’re a member of the Cal League, period.” (Dunn, no relation to the Pecos League commissioner, did not return a call Wednesday and has not returned calls for weeks.)

RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: The NFL finally set the 2021 salary cap Wednesday, so what mostly had been preliminary internal discussions about cutting players or restructuring contracts now will begin in earnest.

The Rams have, perhaps, the biggest challenge of any team.

With the cap falling from $198.2 million to $182.5 million, the Rams exceed the limit by $33.1 million, according to overthecap.com. That is the largest figure in the NFL.

Rams general manager Les Snead said the team favors restructuring contracts over cutting players.

“That would be priority No. 1,” Snead said during a videoconference call with reporters. “This has been an ongoing process probably for … the last two or three weeks, trying to work with everyone to come up with win-win solutions for player and club.”

NEW NEWSLETTER

Everything is bigger in Southern California.

Two championships in 2020 (Lakers, Dodgers). An events schedule that places Los Angeles squarely at the center of the sports universe over the next decade (Super Bowl 2022, College Football Playoff national championship game ’23, World Cup ’26, Summer Olympics ’28).

In no sports space, however, is Southern California’s cultural influence felt more deeply than in grassroots and high school sports. Keep an eye on any professional draft board, college recruiting newsletters and the Team USA roster for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics; the region’s status as the country’s premier feeder system is inarguable.

Which makes 2020 and the impact of the coronavirus that much more devastating. It has been nearly a year since the pandemic shut down high school sports in Southern California. Seniors saw their careers abruptly terminated. Fall and winter athletes had, at best, their showcase opportunities deferred. There was no return to high school competition in 2020 unless you were willing to move to, say, Utah or Texas. Or flout the law.

Finally high school sports are back. And the Los Angeles Times is here to make sense of what promises to be gloriously chaotic spring.

On March 22, The Times will launch Prep Rally, a high school sports newsletter authored by the dean of Southland prep coverage, Eric Sondheimer.

In more than four decades of covering area high schools, Eric has covered, among many others, John Elway and Giancarlo Stanton, Reggie Miller and Cheryl Miller, Jordin Canada and Evan Mobley, offering the first windows onto the stardom of hundreds of local athletes before they became national and global stars.

Every Monday morning, we’ll bring you hot teams, cold lists, answers to readers’ questions — the most thorough, dialed-in prep coverage in the state. And every Saturday morning, we’ll bring you the latest football scores.

As has been a Sondheimer hallmark, the coverage will not be limited to football and basketball but will encompass all the sports that make the Southland America’s playground.

“This is a chance for people who love to follow high school sports to keep informed about what is happening from Orange County to the Antelope Valley, from San Fernando Valley to the San Gabriel Valley, from Ventura County to Riverside County,” Sondheimer says. “It’s about highlighting athletes and coaches, discussing trends in sports and looking at recruiting and identifying players before they become household names.”

For more information and to sign up, click here.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

MEN’S
BIG WEST (at Las Vegas)
All times Pacific

Today

No. 1 UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 9 Long Beach State, 11 a.m., ESPN3
No. 4 UC Davis vs. No. 5 CS Bakersfield, 2 p.m., ESPN3
No. 2 UC Irvine vs. No. 10 Cal Poly, 5 p.m., ESPN3
No. 3 UC Riverside vs. No. 6 Hawaii, 8 p.m., ESPN3

Friday
Semifinal: #1/8/9 winner vs. #4/5 winner, 6 p.m.
Semifinal: #2/7/10 winner vs. #3/6 winner, 9 p.m.

Saturday
Championship, 8:30 p.m.

PAC-12 (at Las Vegas)

Wednesday’s results
No. 8 Arizona State 64, No. 9 Washington State 59
No. 7 Utah 98, No. 10 Washington 95
No. 11 California 76, No. 6 Stanford 58

Thursday
No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 8 Arizona State, 11:30 a.m., Pac-12 Network
No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 5 Oregon State, 2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
No. 2 USC vs. No. 7 Utah, 5:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
No. 3 Colorado vs. No. 11 California, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Friday
Semifinal 1, 5:30 p.m.
Semifinal 2, 8:30 p.m.

Saturday
Final, 7:30 p.m.

WOMEN’S
BIG WEST (at Las Vegas)

Wednesday’s results
No. 1 UC Davis 61, No. 9 CS Fullerton 54
No. 5 Hawaii 81, No. 4 CS Bakersfield 67
No. 2 UC Irvine 92, No. 7 UC Santa Barbara 90
No. 6 Cal Poly 61, No. 3 Long Beach State 60

Friday
No. 1 UC Davis vs. No. 5 Hawaii, 12 p.m., ESPN3
No. 2 UC Irvine vs. No. 6 Cal Poly, 3 p.m., ESPN3

Saturday
Championship, 5 p.m.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1922 — Cornell wins the first IC4A indoor track meet held at the 2nd Regiment Armory in New York.

1947 — Harry Boykoff of St. John’s sets a Madison Square Garden scoring record with 54 points in the Redmen’s 71-52 win over St. Francis, N.Y.

1958 — Manhattan upsets top-ranked West Virginia 89-84, in the first round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. Jack Powers leads the Jaspers with 29 points. Manhattan holds sophomore Jerry West to 10 points in the Mountaineers’ second loss of the year.

1963 — Chicago Loyola blows out Tennessee Tech 111-42 for the largest margin of victory (69) in the history of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

1979 — St. John’s and Penn post two of the biggest upsets ever in the NCAA tournament in the second round of the East regional in Raleigh, N.C. St. John’s, the 40th and last team selected, beats No. 2 seed Duke 80-78, and Penn comes from behind to beat No. 1 seed North Carolina 72-71.

1991 — Steffi Graf’s streak of 186 weeks ranked as the No. 1 women’s tennis player ends as she is replaced by Monica Seles.

2001 — Jana Kostelic, Croatia’s 19-year-old skiing sensation, becomes the second youngest woman to win the overall World Cup title. She finishes 21st, but she captures the title when Renate Goetschl of Austria skied off the course in the first run in Are, Sweden.

2003 — The longest winning streak in women’s Division I history ends at 70 games when No. 18 Villanova hands No. 1 Connecticut its first loss since the end of the 2001 season, 52-48 for the championship of the Big East Conference tournament.

2007 — Chris Simon of the New York Islanders is suspended for an NHL-record 25 games, missing the rest of the regular season and playoffs as punishment for his two-handed stick attack to the face of Ryan Hollweg.

2009 — Mike Singletary leads Texas Tech to the biggest rally in Big 12 tournament history, scoring all 29 of Texas Tech’s points during a second-half surge that pushed the Red Raiders to a 88-83 win against the Aggies. The Red Raiders erase a 21-point deficit. Singletary, who outscored A&M 29-18 to give Tech the lead for the first time, finishes with 43 points.

2009 — Wesley Matthews scores 20 points and Marquette snaps a four-game losing streak by holding St. John’s to a Big East tournament-record 10 points in the first half on the way to a 74-45 victory.

2012 — Vanderbilt rallies to beat No. 1 Kentucky 71-64 in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game, ending the Wildcats’ 24-game winning streak.

2014 — FIU senior Jerica Coley becomes the 10th female player in NCAA Division I history to eclipse the 3,000-point barrier, doing so with a 20-point showing in FIU’s 85-65 win over Rice in the first round of the Conference USA tournament.

2017 — Jayson Tatum takes over in the final three minutes, making key plays on both ends of the floor, and Duke becomes the first team to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament with four wins in four days by rallying past Notre Dame for a 75-69 win.

And finally

Sandy Koufax pitches to Mr. Ed. Watch it here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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