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UCLA, with Pac-12 foes arriving, needs to make home its castle

UCLA BASKETBALL

The Bruins prepare to face conference foes Washington and Washington State at renovated Pauley Pavilion, where UCLA has sometimes proved vulnerable.

February 06, 2013|By Chris Foster
  • Shabazz Muhammad and the Bruins' lost to USC, 75-71, at Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 30, one of UCLA's three home losses this season.
Shabazz Muhammad and the Bruins' lost to USC, 75-71, at Pauley Pavilion… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )

USC's basketball players took full advantage of the $136-million dance floor UCLA built for them.

The Trojans' 75-71 overtime victory last week prompted a spontaneous display worthy of a "Footloose" audition, though UCLA players turned a blind eye as they trudged off Nell and John Wooden Court.

"I heard them but I didn't want to look at them," UCLA forward Travis Wear said during the postmortem.

The nightmare that "new" Pauley Pavilion was supposed to be has occasionally visited the Bruins. The renovated arena, athletic department officials felt, would give UCLA a home-court edge, bringing the crowd closer to the court and energizing the fan base.

The Bruins — and opponents — have yet to feel it on a consistent basis.

There would be no better time than now for Pauley to become a house of horrors for opposing teams. The Bruins start the second half of Pac-12 Conference play at home against Washington on Thursday and Washington State on Saturday.

The games are doubly important because the Bruins finish the regular season playing five of their last seven games on the road.

UCLA (16-6 overall, 6-3 in conference play) is a game behind Pac-12 leaders Arizona and Oregon. The Bruins are tied with Arizona State, and Washington (13-9, 5-4), Stanford and California are a game behind.

Coach Ben Howland sticks to his one-game-at-a-time stump speech when asked whether making up ground in the standings would be hard on the road. "That's all hypothetical," he said. "I sure hope that's not the case."

The Bruins have dropped their last two games at Pauley. The loss to USC was especially painful, and damaging. "If we'd held a two-point lead, we'd be tied for first place," Howland said.

Winning at home would "take the stress off our backs," forward Shabazz Muhammad said. "The odds are against us in away games. We've got to take care business at home."

Business was good when Pauley first opened. Of course, those teams featured the likes of Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton and a slew of other All-Americans.

"I don't think there is any doubt, they had a great student section," recalled Dana Pagett, a guard for USC from 1968 to '71.

USC defeated UCLA, 46-44, in 1969 — in the arena's fourth year — marking the Bruins' first loss at Pauley. The Trojans then repeated the feat the following season, 87-86, on a jumper by Pagett.

"I remember taking the ball out and there were a couple fans screaming at me, both one inch from each ear," Pagett said. "There was less security then, and a little better decorum now."

UCLA was 168-3 at home the first 11 seasons.

The latest loss to USC was the Bruins' third at home this season, and they also were taken to overtime by UC Irvine.

Rabid excitement about a team that boasted the nation's No. 2 recruiting class has been occasional. "I feel we've had pretty decent crowd support," Wear said. But he could rattle off only a few crazy crowds.

"Missouri was unbelievable," Wear said. "Even when we played USC, I thought fans came out."

Even so, this was not the blueprint when UCLA officials poured effort, money and concrete into renovating the arena.

Matching the atmosphere in, say, Tucson, would be the goal. "They get pretty wild there," Wear said. "They have the whole student section lined up behind the basket. When you get that many kids in one area, you feel it."

Pauley Pavilion has the student section cut in two — half on the floor, half in the rafters.

"Most of our students are at the top," guard Jordan Adams said. "Our students should be at the bottom so they can mess with the other team's players or wave arms behind free throws."

But the Bruins know one sure way to make Pauley hostile.

"We have to avoid losing games like we have," Wear said. "There are games we should have won. If we did, we'd be ranked still and fans would come out and support us more."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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