Pauley Pavilion is no longer the greatest show of dearth.
The crowds are back and so is the buzz about a UCLA basketball team that is packing its home arena at what could become a record level in the five seasons since it was renovated.
Recent games against Michigan and California were both sellouts, giving the Bruins as many capacity crowds as they had all of last season with Pac-12 Conference play just getting underway. Fourth-ranked UCLA’s game against Stanford on Sunday evening at Pauley Pavilion is also expected to sell out even though a limited number of seats remain available.
“We didn’t have too many of those a year ago,” Bruins Coach Steve Alford said of the sellouts, “so it’s nice to have them.”
The uptick in support can be seen across the board. The Bruins averaged 8,644 fans for nonconference games versus 7,016 for nonconference games last season. There was a crowd of 13,659 for UCLA’s conference opener versus California, easily exceeding the 12,026 who attended the Bruins’ first Pac-12 home game last season against Arizona.
Good student turnout has persisted even while UCLA has been on winter break the last few weeks.
“We’ve had I don’t know how many games over winter break where the students have been gone and they’ve still shown up,” shooting guard Bryce Alford said. “That’s huge for us and we definitely see it and we acknowledge it, so a big thank you to all of them who showed up.”
UCLA is averaging 9,202 fans per game overall, trailing only Utah (11,780) and Arizona (14,176) among Pac-12 teams. While the Bruins’ average is below the 9,549 fans it averaged in 2012-13, the first season after the completion of Pauley Pavilion renovations, it will likely surpass that figure before the end of the season because attendance tends to increase during conference games.
“The steadiness of the crowds has been awesome, it’s been a blast,” Bryce Alford said.
Celebrities have begun to flock to Pauley Pavilion, including Jessica Alba, Vince Vaughn, Snoop Dogg and Warren G. UCLA power forward TJ Leaf invited Taylor Swift to a game on Twitter, and when she didn’t show up, students acknowledged his efforts by wielding a huge cutout of her head next to one of Leaf’s for the Kiss Cam.
Scores of NBA scouts and executives, including Miami Heat President Pat Riley and Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, have also come to watch point guard Lonzo Ball, Leaf and others run an offense that has generated 93.1 points per game.
The crowds aren’t just big but cooperative. Fans twice obliged an emcee who asked them to stand in the final minutes Thursday for the national ESPN audience as the Bruins held off California.
“They did a good job, the whole crowd did,” Steve Alford said, “of giving us some energy in the second half.”
The Bruins (15-1 overall, 2-1 Pac-12) have won all nine home games, trying to go unbeaten at Pauley Pavilion for the 11th time in school history and the first since 2006-07. Fans apparently don’t intend to miss their bid to repeat history.
“Any time you get to play at home and you see all the people up there, you’re just grateful for them,” Ball said. “As long as they keep coming, we’ll keep putting on a show.
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Pauley Pavilion.
On the air: FS1; Radio: 570.
Update: Stanford’s slide toward .500 was exacerbated by the indefinite loss of leading scorer Reid Travis, who suffered a right-shoulder injury in practice and sat out the Cardinal’s 72-56 loss to USC on Thursday. Travis was averaging 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, accounting for 25.3% of Stanford’s scoring and 27% of its rebounding. Travis’ absence leaves forward Dorian Pickens (13.2 points per game) as the only player averaging double figures in points for the Cardinal (8-7 overall, 0-3 Pac-12 Conference). Meanwhile, UCLA’s Isaac Hamilton is still looking to break out of the most elongated funk of his career, having made two of his last 24 shots (8.3%) and three of his last 26 three-pointers (11.5%).
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch