PALO ALTO — An athletic director weeps. A booster screams. A heckler sighs.
A coach still stands.
Steve Lavin was wearing a wrinkled T-shirt because his players--many who love him every bit as much as most of Los Angeles doesn't--doused him with cold water.
He was speaking with a wrinkled voice because he had just spent two hours screaming above the noise of the nation's only unbeaten team.
There were bite marks on his heels, blade wounds in his back, uncertainty in his future, and Rick Pitino in his face.
Yet, both unbelievably and not surprisingly, one of the best coaching jobs in college basketball this season is now on his resume.
UCLA stunned top-ranked Stanford on Saturday, 79-73, with an unblinking effort that dropped a formidable team to its knees while bringing a shaky coach to his feet.
For at least five hours.
As it has been for five years.
"Quit swearing!" a Maples Pavilion patron shouted to Lavin late Saturday.
"I'm fighting for my life here!" Lavin shouted back.
Fighting as he was fighting last year when the Bruins upset Stanford here in the NCAA tournament, or three years ago against Michigan in the tournament, or four years ago against everybody.
Fighting and--thanks to those confounding desperation roundhouses--staying upright.
That queasy, unsettling feeling in the stomach of critics Saturday when they realized their bloodied coach was going to bounce out of his corner again?
A familiar condition known as Lavin's Revenge.
"This coaching staff gets off the mat as well as anybody in America," assistant Michael Holton said.
A talk-show host howls. A columnist cringes. A city wonders.
What does this mean?
It must first be understood what it could have meant.
Lavin led a 17-point underdog to a victory over arguably the best team in America while strapped to a chair.
Pete Dalis had achieved the desired effect with his Pitino flirtations, distracting the team and uniting alumni in their efforts to buy out one coach and purchase another.
Moles inside the university academic departments were doing their part, gathering and leaking any potential embarrassing information to help support Dalis' case.
The media, this space included, revved up the weekly rants to record decibels.
"A carnival," Lavin said. "When you consider the last three weeks, this is clearly the most challenging stretch in my career."
Yet there was one element everyone ignored.
We forgot about the players.
The players were sick of the talk.
"Every place we go, everybody yelling about Pitino, it got out of hand," Matt Barnes said.
The players were sick of the lack of administrative public support.
"Loyalty is lost in college basketball," Earl Watson said. "Loyalty is not being taught by our upper people here, and it needs to be."
The players wanted peace.
"We can feel the media bothering him, the fans bothering him, everybody," said Billy Knight, who led all scorers with 22 points. "We came out today just wanting it to be over with."
Lavin's situation is so perilous that one victory will not push a stop button.
But talk about a dramatic push of the pause.
The Bruins outrebounded the bigger Cardinal, hawked the ball better than the conference's best defense, played smarter than the team with all the smarts.
Not only did Lavin thoroughly outcoach the highly regarded Mike Montgomery with a team that was physically inferior, but, for long stretches, UCLA actually looked liked Stanford.
Said Montgomery: "We didn't have the energy UCLA did, and it showed."
So, again, what does this mean?
Other than totally ruining Dalis' weekend--contrary to one rumor, he was not that gray-haired guy bouncing up and down in the Stanford cheering section--the victory could mean little.
The Bruins (13-6) probably still need five victories in their final 10 games to qualify for the tournament, and there's only four pushovers on the schedule.
If the Bruins miss the tournament, Lavin starts missing paychecks.
If the Bruins qualify for the tournament and are blown out in the first round by some small private school, Lavin probably also doesn't survive.
There are five years of assorted problems to be addressed here, including such questions as how does a team good enough to win at Stanford get blasted at home by Cal State Northridge?
Saturday was not a final step in Lavin's recovery, only a first one.
But it did mean one thing.
Maybe we should listen more to the players.
"Can you just leave it all alone and let us finish the year?" Knight asked. "Let him coach, and then at the end of the year, evaluate it."
Let them finish the year. After Saturday, the players have earned it.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: email@example.com.