It will be a celebration of Showtime, past and present.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will be honored at halftime of UCLA’s game against Arizona on Saturday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion for recently receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The Bruins legend will address a capacity crowd that’s expected to include onetime Lakers teammate Magic Johnson.
“You can’t ask for a better stage than that,” UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball said.
Abdul-Jabbar will be featured on T-shirts distributed to students and posters given to all fans in attendance.
Then everyone will settle in to watch the newest Bruins idol.
Ball is on the verge of eclipsing records that have stood since Abdul-Jabbar roamed the same court. UCLA is scoring 93.3 points per game, putting it on pace to break the school record of 92.3 points set during the 1967-68 season.
Abdul-Jabbar was then a 7-foot-1 junior who went by the name of Lew Alcindor. The Bruins were on the way to their fourth national championship that season, with seven more to come.
The current Bruins would like to boost that total to an even dozen. They are ranked No. 3 in the nation after a 19-1 start that has included a 6-1 record in Pac-12 Conference play but are looking up at No. 14 Arizona (17-2, 6-0) and No. 11 Oregon (17-2, 6-0) in the conference standings.
A victory over the Wildcats on Saturday would allow the Bruins to pull even in the Pac-12 while staying firmly in the running for a No. 1 seeding in the NCAA tournament and a favorable path to the Final Four. UCLA as a top-seeded team could conceivably make its first two stops in Sacramento and San Jose on its way to Glendale, Ariz., site of the final two rounds.
The Bruins have been so dominant that Coach Steve Alford seemed mildly perturbed by a question about lulls late Thursday night after his team whipped Arizona State by 22 points.
“I just think you’re not going to win games by 40 points in this league,” Alford said. “It’s just not going to happen. So we’re up 25 at one time and we won by 22. I’ll take that.”
UCLA was so engrossed in its effort against the Sun Devils that no one on the team appeared to notice guard Isaac Hamilton had tied a school record with nine three-pointers. Forward TJ Leaf glanced incredulously at the box score afterward and guard Aaron Holiday furrowed his brow when informed of the feat after the game.
They may not have been the only ones who were oblivious.
“I don’t think he knew,” Ball said of Hamilton, who was unable to speak with reporters because he was receiving stitches for a cut on his tongue.
The Wildcats received an unexpected boost Friday afternoon when the NCAA notified them that star guard Allonzo Trier would be able to make his season debut against the Bruins after a drug test showed no signs of the performance-enhancing substance that had resulted in his suspension for the season’s first 19 games. Trier averaged 14.8 points as a freshman last season.
Arizona Coach Sean Miller threatened to bench players after the Wildcats held on for a narrow victory over USC on Thursday in a game they once led by 23 points. A total collapse was averted only after Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen banked in a three-pointer to double his team’s advantage in the final minute.
The Wildcats will bring the Pac-12’s top defense, allowing 61.8 points per game, into their matchup against UCLA and the conference’s top offense. The only thing that might give is the urge to hit the concession stands after tipoff.
The Bruins opened their game against Arizona State by scoring 21 points in less than five minutes.
“A lot of times it can be easy for us,” Leaf said. “I mean, we move the ball so well and so effortlessly, we don’t have to just tell guys to make the extra pass, it’s already done and done so quick and at such a high pace that it makes basketball so much more fun.”
Much of the entertainment originates with Ball, whose 12 assists Thursday included a touch pass to Gyorgy Goloman for a dunk and a one-handed outlet pass that resulted in Hamilton’s record-tying ninth three-pointer. Alford said he has to tell the freshman dynamo only two words when UCLA is on offense.
“I just say, ‘Play downhill, play downhill,’ because he’s one of the most special players I’ve ever watched playing a game downhill,” Alford said. “He does it as fast as I think I’ve ever seen a player do it and still makes incredible plays, incredible decisions. He finds people open that they don’t even look open to most players and that’s a fun guy to play with.”
He might also be fun to share the spotlight with, from one era of Bruins greatness to the next.
When: 1 p.m., Saturday.
Where: Pauley Pavilion.
On the air: TV: Channel 2; Radio: 570.
Update: UCLA’s TJ Leaf originally committed to Arizona before switching allegiances, but he wouldn’t attach any added significance to facing the team he spurned. “It’s just another game,” Leaf said. “It’s two big-time teams going at each other in a big-time environment.” The Wildcats’ recruiting class turned out just fine, with freshmen Lauri Markannen (17.0 points per game), Rawle Alkins (12.0) and Kobi Simmons (11.7) among their leading scorers. Arizona point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright has missed all 10 three-pointers he’s taken since returning from a sprained ankle late last month. He led the Pac-12 Conference in three-point accuracy (48.6%) last season.