SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Pooh Richardson, UCLA's usually effective and often dazzling point guard, has been outdoing himself of late. He says his game is clicking.
That's one way of putting it. Or you could say that Pooh has taken charge, bringing his aggressive, watch-me-now Philadelphia schoolyard game to the court and goading his teammates into loosening up and playing it his way.
UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard has given Richardson the green light from the start, but a couple of weeks ago he drove the point home. Richardson said: "Coach Hazzard told me just to go out and do my thing. He wanted me to come forward, and I'm trying to do that."
Richardson started picking up momentum last week, at the same time he was becoming UCLA's all-time leader in assists. By the time he got to USC Thursday night, he was rolling. He had 13 assists (not a record for him), 7 steals and 19 points, making 8 of 10 shots from the field.
He's hot. And just in time for today's nationally televised game with Notre Dame and David Rivers.
No one--not even Pooh--wants this billed as a two-player show. But Rivers is even more of a focal point for the Irish team than Richardson is for the Bruins. The rivalry, which has been going on since Richardson was a freshman with neither establishing a clear advantage, will be quite obvious this afternoon.
And each has to be aware of the importance of this game as two struggling teams try to keep tournament hopes alive.
Notre Dame's record is 13-7, and the Irish are just coming out of a three-game losing streak against some national powers. UCLA is 11-11 and has won most of those recently, coming around after an early nonconference run against some very tough opposition.
As Irish Coach Digger Phelps said: "UCLA has won 7 of its last 10, and I don't think people realize how very well UCLA is playing."
It should be a very interesting matchup. Starting with the point guards.
Richardson is his team's No. 3 scorer, but he leads the Bruins in assists, steals and minutes.
Rivers, an All-American, averages 22.9 points a game. The only other Irish player averaging in double figures is Mark Stevenson, at 12.4. And Stevenson won't even be in the starting lineup as he works his way back from a disciplinary suspension. Rivers also leads his team in assists, steals, minutes, free-throw percentage and three-point goals.
Asked if he is looking forward to seeing Richardson and Rivers on the court together, Phelps said: "I'd rather see just Rivers out there."
Although UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard said: "Jerome (which is what Walt Hazzard calls Pooh) is just getting better and better. In the last three or four games, he's really coming on. I'm looking forward to his confrontation with David Rivers."
In an effort to diffuse the buildup, Richardson said: "It's no big deal to play David Rivers. As far as I'm concerned, Sunday's game is a nonconference game that we need to win. I'll be ready to play. I'll be out there to play hard.
"We don't even match up the whole way. Last year, I played him on defense, but he didn't play me. In the past, he's gotten into foul trouble playing me early in the game."
Asked if he was sure he would draw Rivers as a defensive assignment, Richardson flashed the smile that signals a real response on the way and said: "Are you kidding? Coach isn't going to let that get by. That will be my job. Or, maybe Gerald Madkins would like to have it. Gerald's a defensive specialist. Maybe if Gerald and I find ourselves on the floor at the same time, we'll have to fight over him."
Today's game will be nationally televised by NBC (Channel 4 at 10 a.m. in Los Angeles). The game also will be broadcast by KMPC (710 AM). . . . UCLA forward Kevin Walker, who also serves as a backup center, missed the game at USC Thursday night after spraining an ankle in practice Wednesday. He made the trip to South Bend. Asked if he would be ready to play, Walker said, "I hope so."
Notre Dame lost three straight (to Kentucky, Maryland and Duke) before winning a home game against Fordham Wednesday night. . . . Mark Stevenson, who got in trouble for underage drinking after a victory over Kansas on Jan. 23, and was suspended for two weeks by Coach Digger Phelps and missed the games against Kentucky, Maryland and Duke. He was the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 12.4 points a game. He played 32 minutes against Fordham, coming off the bench, and will play but not start against the Bruins. Joe Fredrick, a 6-4 sophomore, moved from guard to small forward while Stevenson was out, and sophomore Jamere Jackson moved into the starting lineup. Phelps said: "We were playing real good basketball when we got to the Kansas game--now we're trying to pick up the pieces, get our team back together, and pick up where we left off."
UCLA leads the series against Notre Dame, 22-13, and won last year, 63-59, at Pauley Pavilion. The last time the Bruins played in South Bend, in 1986, Notre Dame won, 74-64. . . . Digger Phelps is in his 17th season at Notre Dame and has a record of 336-153 there. . . . Notre Dame finished 24-8 last season, advancing to the third round of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament before losing to North Carolina. Back from that team are Rivers, Stevenson, and 6-9 senior Gary Voce. Added to the lineup this season are sophomores Fredrick and 6-9 center Keith Robinson. . . . One of Notre Dame's early victories this season was against Louisville, 69-54. UCLA lost at Louisville, 92-79.