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The Inside Track | Chris Dufresne SECOND THOUGHTS

Sadness and Badness, but No Madness Around Here

March 08, 2004|Chris Dufresne

It has been almost 10 years since we lost major professional football in Los Angeles and, by my count, two years since we lost college basketball.

To recap, the Rams moved to St. Louis, the Raiders to Oakland and UCLA basketball relocated to Stanford.

Many of us still miss the Rams and Raiders. We get pangs each fall for the teams that once roamed our Tinseltown tundra.

We hope, one day, football will return.

That goes for college hoops too.

Here it is March again, and, for the second year in a row, barring an upset in conference tournament play, Southern California will not place a team in the NCAA men's tournament.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used his political muscle last week to help pass Propositions 57 and 58, yet there's not a darn thing he can do about the NCAA bracket: Prop. 65.

To think they used to call March Madness "The UCLA Invitational."

This year, UCLA was lucky to get an invitation to the Pacific 10 Conference tournament.

This town used to be UCLA's dominion but, as it stands, the Bruins might not be better than Old Dominion.

Bruin ball was supposed to be improved under first-year Coach Ben Howland because, the theory goes, nothing could be worse than the last days of Steve Lavin.

UCLA in 2003 posted its first losing season in half a century, prompting the Westwood coaching swap and Lavin's new career in front of a TelePrompTer.

Yet, after a promising start, Howland's first team shot nothing but fadeaways down the stretch ... losing 13 of its last 15 games. No one was expecting a U.S.-hockey-team-defeats-the-Soviets miracle in Year One, but UCLA fans might have expected the Bruins to play with more passion and purpose.

It hasn't happened ... yet.

No one fathomed that the last regular-season week of Howland's first season would play out with UCLA needing a win from archrival USC just to reserve locker stalls this week at Staples Center.

Maybe the real surprise, though, is how no Southland squad has stepped in to fill UCLA's void.

Do we need to tack up a peach basket and start from scratch?

USC has spent more time bickering with the Pac-10 compliance and enforcement committee than on basketball. Frankly, Commissioner Tom Hansen has had it with USC's Craven twins and doesn't think much of the Olsen twins either.

Was it really only three years ago that USC under Coach Henry Bibby made a rollicking romp through the NCAA tournament, knocking off Kentucky and reaching the round of eight, in which the Trojans lost to Duke?

Once, you could count on at least one local team to have some spring in its step.

It wasn't always about UCLA.

In 1971, Jerry Tarkanian's Long Beach State team took John Wooden's mighty UCLA team to the brink before losing, 57-55, in a West Regional game.

In 1978, Cal State Fullerton fell a jump shot short of advancing to the Final Four.

In 1990, Loyola Marymount led the nation on a gripping NCAA journey to the final eight after the death of its star player, Hank Gathers, during a conference tournament.

Way back in 2000, Pepperdine won its way into the NCAA tournament and shocked Indiana in a first-round game at Buffalo, in what turned out to be Bob Knight's last game as Hoosier coach.

Jan van Breda Kolff, Pepperdine's coach of the hour, would leave Malibu to coach at St. Bonaventure. There, he found himself center court in one of last year's biggest college basketball scandals and resigned.

Nice career move.

I'm not quite sure what the answer is locally.

The NFL has promised to one day put a franchise tag back on Los Angeles.

Maybe, while he's at it, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue could toss in a college basketball expansion team.

Maybe we could convince an Atlantic Coast Conference team to relocate.

How many good teams does the ACC need? We could trade Long Beach and Fullerton for Wake Forest and move the campus to Lake Forest.

Maybe we could combine Southern California programs in the hope of producing one NCAA-worthy squad:

USCLA?

Anyone object to a Cal State Pepperton?

Show of hands for UC Irvine Marymount.

Clearly, whatever we're doing now isn't working.

More second thoughts and dot dot dots ...

* Kobe Bryant could miss a month with another shoulder injury.

I'm beginning to think there's a better chance of seeing Rush Limbaugh and Hillary Clinton spend meaningful time together this year than Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Shaquille O'Neal.

* Stanford basketball team loses at Washington.

What those Cardinal kids did was very smart, getting that first loss out of the way before the NCAA tournament. In fact, you might describe Stanford's clutch-poor performance in Seattle as a "Think Tank."

* Ken Venturi says in upcoming book that Arnold Palmer broke rule en route to winning 1958 Masters.

Venturi may or may not be right, but he should be fined for extremely slow (publicity) play.

* Chris Webber's involvement with boosters tarnishes state basketball titles he won in high school.

This just in off the Nickelodeon sports ticker.... NCAA believes extra juice box Webber once received after a T-ball game was a violation of "extra benefit" rule.

* Mark O'Meara wins Dubai Desert Classic.

Sorry, but there's something wrong in golf when Tiger Woods makes almost 10 times more money for showing up ($3 million) than O'Meara does for winning ($333,300).

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