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NO. 15 UCLA VS. USC

Reign and Shrine

Once upon a time, USC was the basketball power in L.A., ruling the city from an auditorium stage and beating UCLA 42 consecutive times

February 19, 2006|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

It didn't take long for the news that UCLA had finally beaten USC to reverberate all the way from Westwood to Perris Island, S.C.

That's where Bob Ormsby, who had helped the Trojans compile a sizable chunk of their 42-game basketball winning streak against the Bruins, was stationed in March 1943 while attending Marine Corps boot camp.

The report of USC's 42-37 overtime defeat hit Ormsby hard. He was a forward on Trojan teams that went 12-0 against UCLA from 1939 to '42.

"When I got word that we lost the game," Ormsby recalled, "I almost wore one of those bereavement bands on my shoulder."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday February 21, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
College basketball -- In Sunday's Sports section, an article about how USC once dominated its rival UCLA misspelled the surname of former Bruin player Ernie Handelsman as Handlesman. The article also misspelled the location of a Marine Corps boot camp as Perris Island, S.C. It is Parris Island.

A period of mourning might have been in order had the Trojans not returned to Westwood the following day and punched out their 50th victory in 58 meetings with the Bruins.

Long obscured by UCLA's treasure trove of 11 national championships and 26 first-team All-Americans is an era when USC defeated the Bruins with alarm-clock regularity. The Trojans, who trail in the series, 122-98, heading into today's game at the Sports Arena, did not lose to UCLA from Feb. 13, 1932 until March 5, 1943.

"When you have a streak going like that, you kind of get the feeling that you can whip them any time," said Ted Gossard, a USC guard from 1941 to '43.

Old-timers such as Gossard, now 87 and living in Manhattan Beach, like to point out that before Alcindor, Walton and Wooden, there were Guttero, Vaughn and Barry.

Lee Guttero was an All-American center who led USC in scoring from 1933 to '35, Ralph Vaughn was a charismatic star featured on the cover of Life magazine during the 1939-40 season, and Sam Barry was the first coach to take the Trojans to the NCAA tournament, in 1940.

Assisted by a talented supporting cast, the trio helped USC dominate most of its Pacific Coast Conference foes, especially a UCLA program that did not field its first varsity team until 12 years after the Trojans started playing in 1907.

"UCLA was never that strong in basketball at that particular time," Gossard said.

Wearing Barry-model leather high-tops and taking a slow-it-down approach that often generated winning scores in the 40s and 50s, the Trojans were among the favorites to win the 1940 NCAA tournament after posting a 19-2 record that included four victories over UCLA and another over powerful Long Island University at Madison Square Garden.

But after defeating Colorado to advance to the Final Four, USC was upset by Kansas in a semifinal, 43-42.

The Trojans played most of their home games in the early 1940s on a stage at the Shrine Auditorium, where the sight lines were good as long as you sat in the center section.

"If you had a seat on the extreme right or left, you missed seeing one basket," said Alex Omalev, a Trojan forward from 1940 to '43.

Two men seated on an elevated platform kept the score on flip-cards, and a gun blast marked the end of each half. During one game, Omalev recalled, the gun went off and a prankster tossed a dead duck from the rafters onto the court.

"Everybody went wild, laughing," Omalev said.

Playing the Bruins wasn't always so pleasurable, even in triumph. Ormsby remembered stealing a pass during a game in 1941 and going in for a layup only to be blindsided from behind and knocked clear off the stage by a particularly athletic UCLA player named Jackie Robinson.

"He hit me when I was right in the air," Ormsby said. "It drove me out of sight [of the fans]."

A few years earlier, Robinson had the distinction of playing for a Pasadena City College team that ended a winning streak by the USC freshman team stretching into the 90s.

But it took a player the caliber of All-American Don Barksdale to end the Trojan varsity team's streak against the Bruins. USC had already defeated UCLA twice in 1943 when the teams met at the men's gym in Westwood on March 5.

After hundreds of fans had been turned away, a sellout crowd of 2,600 gathered to watch Barksdale, a transfer from Marin Junior College who had arrived in midseason, take on the Trojans for the first time. The 6-foot-6 center, described in The Times' game story as "a kangaroo-legged ... lad," scored 18 points to fuel the upset.

"We certainly hadn't heard of him, and he played a good ballgame," said Gossard, the Trojan guard whose free throw with four seconds left in regulation sent the game into overtime. "He helped them tremendously."

USC Coach Ernie Holbrook, whose team had already clinched the Pacific Coast Conference's Southern Division title, did not take the loss particularly hard, according to Gossard.

"He said, 'We've got another game tomorrow,' " Gossard said. "And we got them the next day."

Indeed, USC pulled out a 53-46 victory on March 6, getting 15 points apiece from Gene Rock and Omalev. Barksdale fouled out, finishing with 11 points.

Just like today, the cross-town rivalry in its infancy both strained and reinforced childhood friendships. Gossard recalled being fired up on the court to face his Bruin counterparts, but feeling overjoyed upon seeing them at the beach in Santa Monica.

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