By Ryan Jones
I was born in Southern California, and while I have no desire to ever live here again, I always love coming back. Here are some of the reasons:
-A Double-Double, fries and chocolate milkshake from In N Out.
-Young brunette women of indeterminate ethnicity who wear flattering eyeglasses.
-The 405 Freeway northbound near West Los Angeles during the afternoon rush hour.*
(*I don’t actually love this. Example: It took me one hour to travel 6.6 miles between my hotel in Santa Monica and Pauley Pavilion this afternoon.)
Anyway, I’m back in L.A. for about 24 hours, three of which I’m spending on the lovely campus of UCLA. We flew in today to visit the West Coast wing of my family for the holidays, but that starts tomorrow; today is for basketball. I actually scheduled the timing of this trip around UCLA’s home game with… Western Illinois! Of the Summit League! Truthfully, I wanted to see either OJ Mayo or Kevin Love in person this season, and this was the one game that worked out. It does not figure to be much of a game, but considering I sat through Penn State’s 60-39 defeat of Denver last weekend, I won’t complain.
All that said, it’s about 65 and pouring outside. Kevin must feel like he never left Oregon.
Probably worth noting: I got to know Kevin over the last couple of years, seeing him and his fam at ABCD Camp and other AAU events, and talking to him throughout his senior year for his monthly Basketball Diary entries. He’s a funny kid, and he usually returned phone calls in a timely manner, so I liked him. Also, he and his dad and brother came through the Slam Dome once a couple years ago and hung out for like a half hour just bullsh*tting, which automatically earned them a spot on the all-time Slam favorites list. Also, Kevin and his dad and brother are all kind of smart-asses, which is just gravy on the cake.
Anyway, I interrupt Kevin’s pregame shoot-around to say what’s up. He says he apparently made the honor roll his first semester, which he says makes him question how hard this whole “college” thing really is. He also notes somewhat quizzically that he’s only playing about 26 minutes per game. He sounds like he’s really annoyed and might transfer. Not really, but hopefully somebody from L.A. will read this and start a rumor. The Internets!
I also run into Kevin’s dad, Stan, on the way back from the refreshment stand. Stan is wearing an LRG jacket. This is dope.
Music played over the PA during UCLA’s pregame warm-ups includes ‘Shoulder Lean,’ which I hated the first time I heard it and have consistently hated ever since, and another song in which someone keeps asking me to watch them two-step. I guess I should know who performs this song. I’m glad I don’t.
About 20 minutes before the game, the UCLA student section does a chant-and-clap thing naming every player on the roster. With each player, they keep the chant going until the player acknowledges them with a wave. I’ve never been to Cameron Indoor, but these kids do seem Duke-caliber in their level of organization. Plus, it’s a public school. Eat it, Duke.
UCLA rolls out the male and female Bruin mascots, which I think I knew but had forgotten. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I trust nationally recognized mascot expert Ben Osborne will chime in on this subject shortly.
Also, I’m reminded that the UCLA pep band wears blue and yellow Hawaiian shirts. I know exactly how I feel about that.
The banners… I won’t make too much of it, but it’s just really, really fresh to be able to ring your entire arena with National Championship banners. Not conference titles or NCAA tournament trips, but National f*cking Championships.
I was always sort of neutral about UCLA growing up in SoCal. My only compelling memory was of not liking the baby blue on their football uniforms; I don’t know why, it just bugged me. But on a basketball-specific level, it seems like unless you’re a USC graduate, you sort of have to like UCLA. I say this as an alumnus of the John Wooden Basketball Camp, which I attended as a fat, uncoordinated 11-year-old back in a year I don’t remember. What I do remember is that Wooden was out every morning drilling us on our defensive footwork, which someone with an NCAA Championship ring for every finger shouldn’t have to bother with. But he did.
Anyway, game time.
UCLA wins the tip.
Russell Westbrook drives baseline and bangs his way in for a layup, 2-0 Bruins. I only know two things about Russell Westbrook: One, he started the season rocking that flaming Mohawk thing; and two, when I emailed the UCLA basketball media guy to get a credential for this game, I closed by saying “let me know if you need anything else from me.” He replied, “Yes! There’s something I need from you: Get Russell Westbrook a cover. He’s been bugging me to get him in Slam for the past six months.” I tell him a cover is unlikely, though I will rule nothing out. Clearly, Westbrook is trying to impress me tonight. He knows I’m in the building. I expect a career showing. Speaking literally, that means he’ll score (checks media guide…) 20 points.
Early going. Kevin Love posts up, is doubled, passes out — not literally. He just passed out of the double team.
Western Illinois coach Derek Thomas is wearing a purple suit. I won’t go so far as to say he pulls it off, but let’s say he pulls it off better than I could.
Collison airballs a baseline layup under unexpected pressure, but Love catches and drops it in, 8-5 Bruins.
Westbrook hits a three, 11-5 Bruins. I see you Russell!
Shipp hits a three, 14-5 Bruins. I don’t see myself paying attention to the score for much longer.
One of the Western Kentucky kids just bounced a pass off one of his teammate’s heads. (I won’t name them because I don’t want to embarrass the kids.) However, I will say I’m disappointed in the UCLA student section. I thought they’d hammer the kid, but they kind of let it slide. Too obvious? Mercy killing? No idea.
Three-point goal, Kevin Love. Versatility, b*tches. 24-7 Bruins. Too bad Karl Dorrell couldn’t put up scores like this.
Western Illinois’ nickname is the Leathernecks. Use that next time you’re trying to stump your trivia geek buddies, or just want to impress the ladies.
The female Bruin mascot (Bruinette? Is that sexist?) is making the rounds. I’m officially creeped out. I don’t know why, it’s just bugged.
Kevin Love is called for an illegal screen. He expresses disbelief.
Kevin Love with some dopeness. Starts a post move 12 feet from the basket with a pump fake pass, bangs his man closer to the basket and draws the double. He responds with a no-look drop-off to a wide-open Alfred Aboya for an easy basket. It’s a good basketball play.
Kevin Love with a block.
Westbrook with a steal.
At the half: 42-19 Bruins. Still, I’ll stay til the end. It’s either that or go back to the hotel and sleep. What fun would that be?
Kevin Love scores inside, 44-19 Bruins
Kevin Love, slam dunk, 46-24 Bruins.
Love splits a double team with a pinpoint bounce pass to Mbah a Moute for another wide-open layup, 48-24 Bruins.
Westbrook with a breakaway layup after a great lead pass from the big white guy. 50-26 Bruins.
Kevin Love hits two free throws, 52-26 Bruins.
I didn’t know, and you probably didn’t either, so I asked for both of us: The gold ‘C’ in the otherwise blue ‘UCLA’ on the home jerseys signifies the school’s 100 NCAA championships in all sports, which they achieved earlier this year, and ‘C’ is the Roman numeral for 100. It’s a good program.
And while I’m thinking of it, let me take this opportunity to congratulate the Penn State women’s volleyball team on the 2007 NCAA Championship. Can’t beat a bunch of really tall girls who like to hit things.
Kevin Love tip-toes along the baseline and scores, and one. The three-point play makes it 67-39 Bruins, 5:30 to play.
And with 4:30 to play: Ben Howland is a fat lady, and ‘Nikola Dragovic checks into the game’ is the song he is singing. People are going home.
And with 2:30 to play, the unquestioned highlight of the night: Mata-Real loses his man and gets a perfect bounce pass underneath, leaving him wide-open for a two-handed dunk. Which he misses.
Final:77-52 Bruins. Love finishes with 16, Westbrook has 8. That cover will have to wait.
Moral of the evening: A boring college game, at least in person, is better than a boring NBA game any time.