The UCLA Bruins, on leave from the NCAA tournament for four years, got back to where they once belonged Sunday.
UCLA hasn't even won an NCAA tournament game in seven years, but the school whose 10-title run on the NCAA tournament ended in 1975, is back in the big time again.
The Bruins (24-6) earned a chance to renew one of the most enduring relationships in college basketball. And they didn't even need to beat Washington to do it. UCLA did it anyway, defeating the Huskies, 76-64, in the final of the Pacific 10 tournament before 9,117 in Pauley Pavilion.
Midway through the second half, the NCAA tournament pairings had already been announced, and UCLA was in. The Bruins are matched up against Central Michigan in a first-round game Thursday night in Salt Lake City.
The Chippewas, champions of the Mid-American Conference are 22-7, but Coach Walt Hazzard doesn't know a great deal about them. Exactly how much?
"Zero," he said.
Washington Coach Andy Russo said he was also in the dark.
"Central Michigan . . . I believe that's right in the middle of Michigan," he said.
The Huskies, meanwhile, are right in the middle of nowhere, which is probably where they belong and certainly where UCLA deposited them. The Pac-10 final was supposed to be a match-up of Husky inside power and Bruin finesse, but that's not really the way it turned out.
"After awhile, they started to play our game," said Reggie Miller.
That was not a very good idea. UCLA coaxed Washington into a race, which isn't the style the Huskies can play. Neither was it how they beat UCLA twice during the regular season.
The Huskies couldn't even pick up any ground on UCLA when Miller was forced out of the game after he turned his ankle.
Miller explained his injury in Reggie-ese: "I tried an okey-doke move. I guess I okey-doked too much."
Yeah, that's always bad. And, in the meantime, the Bruins were looking only so-so, caught in a down-tempo game the first half.
But they twisted out of that shortly afterward once Pooh Richardson began setting a pace that left the Huskies panting.
"I seen the guys' eyes, and they looked tired," Richardson said. "They were so tired, they couldn't backpedal."
There were plenty of chances for Washington to work on it, though. The Bruins, who led, 38-32, at the half, took off on the dead run and outscored Washington, 12-4, in the first four minutes of the second half.
During the UCLA sprint, Miller had a fast-break layup after an assist by Richardson, and he also connected on a three-pointer from 28 feet. When Richardson drove nearly the length of the court and dropped in a layup off the glass, UCLA's lead was 50-38.
The Bruins never led by fewer than seven points from then on.
Richardson, who led UCLA with 21 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds, joined Miller, who had 16 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, on the all-tournament team. Hazzard said Pooh was the key to the game.
"That was Jerome 'Magic' Richardson out there," Hazzard said.
Richardson joined Montel Hatcher, who had 20 points in 25 minutes, in a backcourt combination that may have overshadowed what was going on beneath the basket, which has been the Huskies' backyard all year.
Jack Haley got a lot of help from Miller in defending 7-0 center Chris Welp. Miller never really played forward Kevin Vidato, who is not a scoring threat, and instead sagged back on Welp, who is.
Welp finished with 13 rebounds and he also had 25 points, but 8 of them came in the last 3:41 after UCLA's lead had already grown to 68-46.
Russo tried to force Miller to defend when he replaced Vidato with Ron Caldwell, but Caldwell was only slightly more effective than Vidato. Meanwhile, Haley and Welp were clinching like Mike Tyson and Bonecrusher Smith.
"Haley kept banging me off my position," Welp said. "That kept me off balance."
Phil Zevenbergen never lost his equilibrium. The Huskies' 6-10 forward with the burr haircut hurt the Bruins as he usually does, but not even his 12 rebounds could keep UCLA from making its appointed first-round date with the Chippewas.
Richardson made 10 of 16 shots and tied his career high in points. He said he felt he had to do something because nobody else was.
So this is Pooh's story: "Charles (Rochelin) wasn't hitting anything, and Reggie was taking his time getting into the offense," Pooh said. "I was getting scared.
"I was saying, 'Oh-oh' and so they started giving the ball to me," Richardson said. "Then Reggie saw that and he said, 'I'm not going to let him do all the work.' And that's what happened."
That's what happened all right. Rochelin shot poorly (2 of 6), but tipped in a misfire in UCLA's second-half streak, and he also blocked three shots and collected six rebounds.
Miller, who was 2 for 8 at the half and finished his business 5 for 13, nevertheless carried his tournament MVP trophy into the postgame press conference.
"Now, we're going to celebrate very hard and then go to Salt Lake City and raise some Cain."
The first Pacific 10 tournament at Pauley didn't exactly pack the house. None of the nine games in five sessions sold out the 12,543-seat arena. Total attendance was 37,663. There were 47,259 tickets distributed. UCLA drew 8,918 for Arizona State, 9,352 for California and 9,117 for the championship game with Washington. . . . The all-tournament team was Anthony Taylor of Oregon, Chris Welp and Phil Zevenbergen of Washington and UCLA's Pooh Richardson and Reggie Miller. . . . Miller scored 83 points in three games on his way to being named the tournament's MVP. . . . Miller was back to being his usual talkative self in the postgame press conference. He blamed the press for saying bad things about him. "Last year, I averaged 27 points a game (actually 25.9), and we were 15-14," he said. "I shaved off seven points (actually 4.7, to 21.2) and you people said I've had a bad year. . . . I still don't get no credit."