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Bruins Won't Be Yawning at Wildcats

College basketball: There will be no wake-up call needed for UCLA tonight when it seeks to avenge its loss to Arizona.

February 15, 1996|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The UCLA Bruins have good ears, long memories and a young team's need for in-your-face inspiration.

So, for a squad that has played energetically when motivated and like sleepwalkers when the vibes were wrong and the opponents less than daunting, tonight's game against Arizona at Pauley Pavilion is special.

"I think our team responds to the competition at hand," said Bruin forward J.R. Henderson. "If they know it's going to be a hard game, I think they'll bring their best game. I guess that's how our team works.

"But with Louisville [a home loss last month], we looked at their team [missing three starters], and our warm-up lines were all slow, the way we came out was all relaxed."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday February 16, 1996 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 3 Sports Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
UCLA basketball--Freshman center Jelani McCoy has said he would never forgive Bruin fans for booing the team. Because of an editing error, the attribution was incorrect in a caption underneath a photograph of Cameron Dollar in The Times on Thursday.

Tonight, not only do the Bruins have a chance to hammer Arizona's chances of catching them in the Pacific 10 race, they can get revenge for last month's loss at Tucson and the chatter in the Wildcats' locker room afterward.

"They're just chasing after what we've got," said UCLA guard Cameron Dollar, referring to the Bruins' national championship last season. "That's why they talk. Kind of letting their insecurities be known."

Shouted forward Charles O'Bannon from nearby: "They haven't accomplished nothing!"

Arizona Coach Lute Olson has declared that if the Wildcats don't beat the Bruins, because of UCLA's favorable schedule down the stretch, "the [conference] race is for second."

Said Henderson: "If we get past this game, our confidence will be up, and I don't think we'll slip or anything and let teams sneak up on us. I think we'll be hungry enough for the Pac-10 championship that we'll finish the rest of the teams off after we get by Arizona."

But, alongside those themes, this game is also UCLA's return to Pauley after the starters were booed Feb. 3 during a sluggish victory over downtrodden Oregon State.

Have the UCLA players forgotten that disappointing moment?

"I know it is wrong to say, but I'll never forgive the fans for that," said freshman center Jelani McCoy. "They're supposed to come out here and support us. They might as well have cheered for the other team when they came in.

"It's not the NBA, it's college basketball. It's supposed to be a great atmosphere. You don't see that at Arizona or Kansas. That's why they have such a good record at home, they love their fans so much they'll do anything to win.

"You shouldn't have to go through something like that, and hopefully it'll never happen again."

Dollar, who wasn't booed, said the Pauley crowd's occasional surliness might be a factor in the way UCLA plays down to its opponents.

"I think it's a sad state of how our fans are," Dollar said, pointing out that the boos probably came from alumni, not the student section. "They're more interested in seeing a show and being entertained than they are in cheering you on. It's almost like they're coming to see us perform--like we're doing theater, like we're doing Broadway. It's, 'Make us feel we're glad we came here.' And it shouldn't be like that.

"That's not a fun atmosphere for us to play in. You come here and they just sit back. . . . It's not fun to play in that. For [a game against] a lesser team, you think, 'Hey, we might get booed today.' "

Said UCLA Coach Jim Harrick: "I think everybody wants to see a great effort. [The players] have to understand that it wasn't everybody [booing], it was just a few. I guess it's the lay of the land here. People say they're spoiled, or you can say whatever. But in this town people want to see a great effort. We're spoiled by the John McKays and the John Woodens and the Magic Johnsons.

"[The players] will get over it."

In an odd way, the Bruins acknowledge, their unhappiness with the crowd makes the Arizona showdown an even bigger game. UCLA's split in the Bay Area last week has left the Bruins a one-game margin for error in the Pac-10 race.

And, points out Dollar, look back at the last year or so--from the sweep of Arizona last season to the national title victory over Arkansas to last week's win at California--and you can't find a big game when the Bruins did not play well.

"We've been in those kinds of games, and I think they get us more motivated," Dollar said. "That's just reality. You can't say we get high for every game. And even though you try to get motivated for the games you don't expect to be as thrilling, it's hard."

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