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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT

After Traveling A Bumpy Road To Philadelphia, Usc And Ucla Know...how Sweet It Is

UCLA: If the Bruin season were a prime-time TV show, ratings might be through the roof with all the drama the team has overcome.

March 19, 2001|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GREENSBORO, N.C. — You want must-see TV? Tune in to UCLA basketball, where the plot takes a new turn every few minutes.

In the latest installment, the Bruins advanced to the Sweet 16 and will face top-seeded Duke on Thursday in the East Regional at Philadelphia. It will be a memorable moment, sure, but this season is loaded with those--good and bad.

Don't touch that dial, because here's the way the Bruins' crazy season might look on the small screen:

* Change of Heart--Jason Kapono, co-freshman of the year in the Pacific 10 Conference, opts to stay in college another season after dipping his toe in the NBA draft pool. That's big news for the Bruins.

* WWF Smackdown--Teammates Matt Barnes and Rico Hines tussle during a summer pickup game. Hines resorts to Vince McMahon-like tactics and clobbers Barnes with a metal stool, drawing a two-game suspension.

* The Wonder Years--Freshman T.J. Cummings makes a fabulous debut with 24 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in a one-point loss to Kansas at Madison Square Garden. The next night he scores six points in overtime and the Bruins defeat Kentucky, 97-92. Start spreadin' the news.

* Mysteries and Scandals--What in the world is going on? Losing to Cal State Northridge at Pauley Pavilion? Even though the Matadors make it to the NCAA tournament, that loss still chafes Bruin fans.

* The Waltons--Lavin is needled by former UCLA great Bill Walton in a news conference. Even John Wooden says Bruin fans never should have to see their team lose to Northridge. The temperature rises after Lavin's team loses to Georgia Tech in a Wooden Classic clunker.

* Whose Line Is It, Anyway?--Using Lavin's cell phone, Kevin Malone mistakenly calls the answering machine of star recruit Jamal Sampson--not youth coach Pat Barrett--and complains about Sampson committing to California. Ouch.

* The (Big) West Wing--The Bruins are taken to the wire in victories over UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine. The fact that those schools played UCLA close gives hope to Big West champion Utah State, which winds up facing the Bruins in the second round of the tournament.

* Meet the Press--North Carolina takes a 19-point lead in the first half, but the Bruins use their full-court press to climb back into the game and actually take the lead. The Tar Heels close with a 20-8 run in the final five minutes to win by 10, but the Bruins suddenly buy into the power of the press.

* Emergency 911--Lavin shuffles the starting lineup, replacing Ray Young with senior guard Jason Flowers for the Purdue game. The Bruins win nine in a row with their new starting five, before a 29-point loss at California prompts more lineup changes.

* Eight Is Enough--Dan Gadzuric busts loose at Purdue, going eight for eight from the field in an 87-82 thriller. Even though he plays with a sore hand, he warps the rims with six double-fisted dunks.

* Politically Incorrect--After assuring Lavin he has not spoken to Rick Pitino, Athletic Director Peter Dalis tells reporters of two phone calls with the then-Boston Celtic coach who is soon to be back on the market.

* 48 Hours--With his job hanging by a thread, a distraught Lavin has two days to prepare his team for a huge game against USC. He later calls it the lowest point in his career.

* Saved By the Bell--At their best with their backs against the wall, the unranked Bruins build a 19-point lead against No. 19 USC, then hang on for an 80-75 victory despite scoring just two baskets in the final 11:26.

* Just Shoot Me--Make that, Me Just Shoot. Kapono scores a career-high 28 points and grabs eight rebounds in a 93-65 rout of Villanova. He is named the Pac-10's player of the week.

* Road Rules--Arizona puts an end to UCLA's six-game winning streak, shutting down Kapono and throttling the visiting Bruins in the second half. Earl Watson sits out the last 18:37 because of back pain and foul trouble.

* Burden of Proof--The news surfaces that Lavin helped Geoff McKnight gain admission to UCLA as a walk-on, even though McKnight barely played in high school. He's the son of Santa Ana Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight, who happens to coach Bruin recruit Cedric Bozeman. All signs point to Lavin trying to curry favor with the coach. In short, it's an awkward and embarrassing situation.

* Sign-feld--Riding high after home victories over Oregon State and Oregon, the Bruins are blasted by 29 at Cal, where students wave photocopies of Pitino with the caption, "I got next, Lavin." On the back of each sign is a picture of Gadzuric with a one-word caption: "Huh?"

* Touched by an Angel--In what might be their best game, the Bruins beat the odds and No. 1 Stanford with a stirring performance at Palo Alto. The game is broadcast nationwide.

* Diff'rent Strokes--At Stanford, a UCLA star is born. Sweet-shooting Billy Knight scores a career-high 22 points and cements himself in the starting lineup. A year earlier, he briefly quit the team and considered transferring to Long Beach State because he wasn't getting any playing time.

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