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UCLA Is Ho-Hum About Being No. 1 : College basketball: What happened last season has taught Bruins not to take the top spot too seriously.

February 28, 1995|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UCLA hit No. 1 Monday morning and shrugged.

In a pronounced departure from last season's embrace of the top slot, quickly followed by a plummet and early NCAA tournament exit, the Bruins expressed tepid enthusiasm in the wake of this season's ascent.

"It's the goal of every coach to get his team to No. 1," Coach Jim Harrick said Monday. "(But) our focus is on winning the Pac-10 title and getting the No. 1 seed in the West for the upcoming NCAA tournament.

"The No. 1 ranking is great for everyone--our team, our coaches, our fans and our alumni. But there's a lot of basketball left to play."

Last year, UCLA made it to the Associated Press' No. 1 spot on Jan. 24, at 14-0, then immediately lost at California. The Bruins ended the regular season on a 7-6 stumble, dropped to a fifth seeding in the NCAA tournament's Midwest Regional and got blown out by Tulsa in the first round.

Sunday's 100-77 defeat of Duke at Pauley Pavilion gave UCLA, which opened the season ranked sixth, its ninth consecutive victory--the longest winning streak of any ranked team.

"I don't think (a slump after being No. 1) is going to happen to this team," said freshman guard Toby Bailey. "After the loss to Tulsa, (the veterans) saw anything can happen. I don't think we even care about No. 1.

"It's nice for it to happen, but I don't think it's going to change anything. We're still going to work hard and still know that we can be beat on any day. And if we don't come out playing hard and playing the way we always play, this team is not going to be as successful as it wants to be."

Before Monday, the last time a UCLA team was No. 1 this late in the season was when John Wooden was coach.

This season, the Bruins say they are proudest of surviving their just-finished 5-0 record in a grueling 11-day stretch that put them one game from the Pacific 10 Conference title and nearer the top seeding in the West Regional. "It tells people we're still on the up-climb," guard Cameron Dollar said. "We're not peaking out. It tells people we're getting a little bit better each day, and that we're for real."

Said Harrick: "It means more after the five-game stretch we've run. That's been a very difficult stretch for us. The game at Stanford was a very significant win. It showed me the real character of this basketball team."

Arkansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Connecticut and Kansas have taken turns at the top of the AP poll this season.

On Feb. 20, Kansas lost to Oklahoma on the day the Jayhawks were voted No. 1.

UCLA was No. 2 in early January and had a chance to move up after a North Carolina loss, but the Bruins lost at Oregon the next day.

UCLA plays host to USC on Wednesday, plays at Louisville on Sunday, then winds up the regular season at home against Oregon State on March 9 and Oregon on March 11. "The head (that wears the crown) has been very shaky," Harrick said, "but there's only four games left and the schedule benefits us."

UCLA (21-2) received 61 first-place votes and 1,642 points from the national media panel to easily beat runner-up North Carolina (21-3), which collected three No. 1 votes and 1,546 points.

Kansas (21-4) fell to third and got one first-place vote, as did Connecticut (22-2), which held fourth. Kentucky, Maryland and Arkansas moved up one place to fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. Massachusetts, Wake Forest and Michigan State round out the top 10.

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