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A Dull Edge

Pauley Has Banners but Not Atmosphere to Give Bruins Advantage

February 15, 2001|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the UCLA basketball team, there's no place like home.

No place as lifeless.

No place as cavernous.

No place as devoid of emotion as Pauley Pavilion, even when the home team is stockpiling victories.

"When you compare this to Stanford or Cal, it's like two different worlds," forward Matt Barnes said. "That's something as a team we really miss. . . . There's really no home-court advantage here. We hold it down for pride, but there's really no advantage."

At the moment, the Bruins are searching for any possible edge. They host No. 8 Arizona tonight--a team that beat them by 25 at Tucson last month--and almost certainly will be without center Dan Gadzuric, who is recovering from an ankle sprain.

The game is a sellout, and Pauley probably will be as loud as it has been all season, yet UCLA players are not expecting that to help much. Most of them would like to see press row moved off the court and into the bleachers, and have the lower level of the arena filled with more students than big-money donors.

"Students have stopped coming to games, because if you come late, you've got to sit way up there," guard Earl Watson said. "I think the facility should belong to the students first. We should have our student section wrap at least halfway around [the court]. If you have that environment, you'd never get tired.

"You see the school spirit at Cal, and then you start comparing it to your school and you're like, 'Man, we're pretty far behind.' "

Said guard Ryan Bailey: "We played Santa Barbara and they had one little section way up there in 308, and they were louder than our fans. It gets loud here, but for the amount of people that are in this stadium, it doesn't get as loud as it should."

Then again, this is Los Angeles, not Durham, N.C., or Albuquerque, where student sections at Duke and New Mexico are raucous enough to register on the Richter scale.

"We haven't gotten that many students coming to games," forward Jason Kapono said. "I don't know if it's because we haven't been as highly ranked and as highly touted as in the past. But I don't think it will ever get like the Cameron Crazies [at Duke] or the type of fans Stanford gets."

UCLA's seating configuration is a delicate dilemma for the school's athletic department, whose officials declined to speak on the record for this story. UCLA generated $4 million in revenue from basketball ticket sales last season. Administrators have no interest in telling boosters--most of whom donated at least $1,500 simply for the right to buy prime, $41 seats--that they have been bumped into the upper decks by students holding $7 tickets.

About 1,800 of the 12,819 tickets are set aside for students, who arrive early at games to get good seats. The first 300 claim seats in the lower (arena) level, and the rest are redirected to the middle and upper levels.

Fifteen years ago, the UCLA student section stretched the length of the north sideline. Now, half that space is occupied by students, the other half by donors, recruits, special guests and players' families. More donors sit along the south sideline, directly behind the benches.

The configuration is different at every school, markedly so at such arenas as Stanford's Maples Pavilion, Oregon's McArthur Court and Cal's Haas Pavilion, where spectators are much closer to the action.

Part of the problem is the size of Pauley, which opened in 1965 and is a multipurpose arena. When the lower-level bleachers are rolled back, there are three full-size basketball courts running north-south--perpendicular to the court used for games.

Pauley's vast feel is accentuated by the large "end zone" areas behind the baskets. At the west end, there's a yawning open space between the court and the bleachers. That happens to be the end where visiting teams shoot foul shots in the second half, dampening the effect of waving arms and wiggling balloons.

"There's no one back there," Watson said. "It's a free shot. What I would do is move [the visiting team's] family section from behind their bench and put the band in there. That's done to us all the time. On the road, the bands are behind our bench. You have rowdy fans that are cussing you out . . . so you can barely hear Coach [Steve] Lavin."

Over the years, the complaints have not fallen on deaf ears. School officials have entertained the possibility of upgrading the facility and moving seats closer to the floor. But their solutions have either caused problems with sight lines or fire codes, and sometimes both.

With or without fan support, UCLA tends to win games at home. The Bruins are 9-2 at Pauley this season. From 1970-76, UCLA won 98 consecutive home games, but declining attendance has been scrutinized lately. Last season's average attendance of 9,440 was the lowest in seven seasons.

The way guard Jason Flowers sees it, fans should be cheering no matter where they're sitting. The 24th-ranked Bruins have won 11 of 13 games, including road victories over Stanford and USC, ranked No. 1 and 22 at the time.

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