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THE INSIDE TRACK | THE MORNING AFTER

Look What a Little Luck Can Do for the Bruins

The high points, low points and ticklish talking points of the weekend that was:

March 13, 2000|TIM KAWAKAMI

Partly, the UCLA Bruins earned it. Partly, they stumbled into it.

(Remember, good luck and Steve Lavin are never very far apart, which is not his fault, but happy fortune alone will truck you only so far . . . )

Thanks to pratfalls by several teams and to their own strong late-season rush, the Bruins vaulted from a probable No. 8 to a No. 6 seeding in the Midwest, which means a lot.

That means they've avoided first-round meetings with the likes of Fresno State, Nevada Las Vegas and Seton Hall.

That means, even in the second round, they'll probably face a very beatable Maryland team, which plays the same scatter-ball the Bruins love and dominate.

Simply by trading places with No. 7 Auburn, UCLA would have been staring at powerful, disciplined Iowa State in the second round.

Yes, your quirky, awesomely talented, moody UCLA Bruins are set up for Sweet 16 (or more) success in the NCAA tournament. Ball State. Maryland. Iowa State . . . and no possible meeting with Michigan State (or even tricky No. 5-seeded Kentucky) until the regional final.

That's far better than, say, having to face Saint Louis and Michigan State, which could be Utah's fate in the Midwest's first two rounds.

All that said, here are some other random thoughts from bracket-mania:

* Watch out for that possible second-round West matchup of Arizona, coached by Lute Olson, and Fresno State, coached by Jerry Tarkanian, who have disliked each other for centuries.

* Love the loaded South, where Stanford is surrounded by danger. This region has my favorite battle-tested team, Connecticut; a great athletic team in Tennessee; my pick to win it all, Ohio State; and my sleeper, Tulsa. The South winner may be too exhausted to do much more.

* Beware of overachieving super-hot teams--Nevada Las Vegas, Saint Louis, Illinois--because they've expended so much energy, there may not be much left.

* My final four: Ohio State, Temple, Michigan State, Arizona.

THE BIG PICTURE

Wilt Chamberlain knew, or at least he eventually figured it out:

The 61-point, 23-rebound Chamberlain-esque monster that Shaquille O'Neal threw at the Clippers last week was stunning, but pushing around Pete Chilcutt is simply what you do to get to what's important--and basically irrelevant once you're there.

Against Portland, Utah or San Antonio, it's inevitable, he will be slowed down. Several huge bodies will be devoted to do it.

And the lesson of O'Neal's past playoff losses is that inflexible, one- dimensional teams are made to be beaten in the postseason.

But the thoughtfulness and intangibles he and his Laker teammates have displayed recently gives an inkling that they are all figuring this out:

* He is above or near career-high totals in rebounds, blocked shots and assists, which makes everybody around him better: O'Neal is grabbing almost four more rebounds than last season's 10.7 average, has dwarfed his 2.6 career blocked-shot average, and is averaging barely under four assists, easily his career best.

* O'Neal's improved free-throw shooting means he wants and gets the ball in the last minutes of a tight game. For the first time, he nudged above 50% last week, and, since the loss to Portland on Jan. 22, he has made 60%.

* The playoff result? Maybe a late-game block of Duncan, or three more rebounds that cut off Portland slam-dunk put-backs, or two zip passes that get Glen Rice into the flow at Indiana, or four free throws that end up being the difference between a two-point loss and a Game 5 victory.

WEEKEND TALKING POINTS

1. "Monday Night Football" vacancies: Producer Don Ohlmeyer's looking for "dangerous" and "unpredictable" mix with Al Michaels. Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell, America is calling on you again.

2. "MNF," endless possibilities: For even weirder chemistry, I happen to know Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson are available.

3. Oscar De La Hoya vs. Shane Mosley at Staples in June: Interesting factoid sure to be marketed for all it's worth--Mosley gave De La Hoya his first defeat, when De La Hoya was 11.

4. Baseball realignment options: This is how far things have gone--a National League with four divisions, but no wild card, is called the purist's choice.

5. Marino retirement: Leaving with dignity these days means staying only two years longer than you should have.

6. Duke: Top-seeded before and after Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and William Avery leave. Maybe Shane Battier and Chris Carrawell can play a little too.

7. Tiger Woods: My, hasn't it been forever since he has won something?

8. Jim Edmonds: He'll be traded as soon as Angels decide they've diminished his value as much as possible.

9. Dennis Rodman, not the end: It's a conspiracy! But not the one he thinks. NBA-NBC conglomerate needs him too much to let him go so soon. How about Peacock Network halftimes with D-Rod?

10. Miking NBA coaches: A solution for Phil Jackson--hire Bill Bradley as an assistant, and everybody automatically will stop listening.

LEADING QUESTIONS

Are you a little bit weary already of Ken Griffey Jr., not as a player but as a media fixation?

Wouldn't it be nice if the first few months could be about watching some subtler things?

Can Carl Everett spice up the Boston Red Sox? Is Livan Hernandez ready to lead the San Francisco Giants into the elite? Will Terry Adams really be that valuable to the Dodgers?

Are you happy that baseball is about ready to start but wondering if we can let Griffey, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa get to 10 home runs apiece before the home-run media pinball machine starts clanging?

And exactly how many World Series have those three superlative players reached in the last decade? Maybe . . . none?

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