UCLA will play Notre Dame in Pauley Pavilion at noon today, which means that both Digger Phelps and Walt Hazzard are just going to have to coach and stop saying nice things about one another's basketball teams, since nobody believes them anyway.
Listen to Digger on the Bruins: "I think they'd be one of the teams who will sneak into the final eight," Phelps said.
You mean the whole country? Precisely, said Digger.
"When you take a look at teams around the country, you've got North Carolina, Nevada Las Vegas, UCLA and Indiana with personnel," he said. "I think UCLA will be one of those teams that is going to be a surprise in the NCAA tournament."
The Bruins, of course, were a surprise on a somewhat smaller scale when they vaulted into the Pacific 10 schedule with consecutive losses at Washington State, which has won once since, and Washington.
Hazzard rolled his eyes when he learned that Phelps had anointed UCLA.
"That's just Digger," he said, as though that explained everything.
"We've had our moments of brilliance and we've had our moments of pitifulness, too," Hazzard said.
"But you know, I think Notre Dame should be in the Final Four because they've got all those high school All-Americans," he said.
Can you take these guys seriously? Not at all, but this is a good way to understand what today's game may actually mean.
First, though, it should be mentioned that UCLA is meeting the Fighting Irish for the 35th time and leads the series, 21-13, although Notre Dame has won the last two games.
In fact, two of the gloomiest moments in UCLA basketball history were furnished by the Irish. In 1971, Austin Carr scored 46 points in an 89-82 victory over UCLA, which was the last game the Bruins lost until Notre Dame beat them, 71-70, in 1974, ending UCLA's 88-game winning streak.
Hazzard, however, has his own streak to worry about. He is 0-2 against Digger.
"I'd like to beat Notre Dame once in my career," he said.
But the history of this series, one that both Hazzard and Phelps insist to be so vital to college basketball, doesn't seem to carry a lot of weight with some of the players.
The Bruins are not looking at the game as a part of history, said Pooh Richardson, who was not born until 14 years after UCLA had played Notre Dame for the first time in 1952. Richardson said the Bruins plan to have a good time.
"It would be a good win, but basically, we're just out there to work on things," he said. "It's not that important. We're on top of our conference, so it just doesn't have that great an impact.
"As for our overall record, it might be important, but it's possible that it means more to them than to us."
Richardson missed two days of practice during the week because of a bruised thigh left over from UCLA's 69-67 overtime victory over Oregon State last Sunday. That means he should be even with David Rivers, his peer at point guard for Notre Dame, who twisted his ankle 12 days ago in a game at Creighton.
Phelps said that except for the loss of some muscle tone and weight, Rivers is otherwise recovered from an accident last August in which he was thrown through the windshield of a van. In three hours of surgery, doctors repaired a 15-inch cut across Rivers' abdomen.
Phelps said that Rivers reinjured his ankle last week, but he is still going to play.
"David Rivers playing at 80% is better than him not playing at all," Phelps said.
At any rate, Phelps said he has a lot more to worry about than an ankle. He is concerned about feet and how they are used in the UCLA fast break.
Digger described the Bruin break: "A running game for them is Reggie Miller shooting a three-pointer on a one-on-three fast break," he said.
That kind of does sound like Miller. But right now, Reggie's mind is on the impact that national television, not his jump shot, will have on the game.
"People in the backwoods of Wisconsin are going to see this game," Reggie said. "So we want to look good. You know, if we beat Notre Dame, that looks good on our resume."
Not to mention a place in history?
"History was before I was born," Reggie said.
Bruin Notes Coach Walt Hazzard is still using a 10-player rotation, and he is still talking about cutting back. He also still worries about it all. "I hope people will accept their roles, as small or as large as they may be, for the good of the team," he said. "I know everyone's not happy, but the time will come when there will be some hard decisions made." One of those who hasn't been playing much is freshman center Greg Foster, who has averaged 14 minutes a game in the Pac-10 and 15 minutes a game for the season. . . . Channel 4 will televise the game. . . . UCLA is 11-4 overall and 6-2 in the Pac-10, and is 9-0 at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins have an eight-game winning streak going. Hazzard referred to Sunday's victory over Oregon State as "a test of character--mine."
Notre Dame is 9-4, but the Irish have lost two of their last three games. Coach Digger Phelps blames the offense: "That's what the drought has been. We're still not patient." What has the Irish defense looked like? "Lately, like a sieve," Phelps said. . . . Notre Dame lost three big men off last season's team--6-10 Ken Barlow, 6-9 Tim Kempton and 6-8 Jim Dolan--so the Irish have become a guard-oriented offense led by David Rivers (14.7-points-a-game average) and Scott Hicks (12.1). Forward Donald Royal (13.7 points plus 6.6 rebounds a game) is the top scorer on the front line that includes 6-6 sophomore Mark Stevenson and 6-9 Gary Voce. . . . Phelps said that UCLA is loaded with talent, even if he can't remember all the names: "The big kid, sounds like a tire company." Charles Rochelin? "Yeah," Phelps said. "I was amazed at the way he shoots the ball."