Sixth-seeded UCLA becomes factor again with addition of Rush

Sophomore's return may be bad news for UM

Ncaa Tournament

March 18, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- UCLA's JaRon Rush hates jokes, especially those at his expense.

During his 24-game suspension, the high-profile sophomore forward could only roll his eyes as teammates teased him daily that he had been reinstated. So, guess Rush's reaction when guard Todd Ramasar informed him before a Feb. 28 practice that he was cleared.

"I told him to shut up," Rush said. "It wasn't funny anymore."

Rush wouldn't believe Ramasar until he brought back a press release, confirming his original 44-game suspension had been unexpectedly slashed by 20 games.

The NCAA handed down the initial penalty after an investigation ruled Rush accepted $200 from a Los Angeles agent and $6,325 in improper benefits from his AAU coach. However, the NCAA Subcommittee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement later decided to give Rush leniency on Feb. 29, and the Bruins have been punishing opponents ever since.

Once on the brink of not making the NCAA tournament, sixth-seeded UCLA (20-11) has won four straight with Rush back and plays No. 3 Maryland in the second round tonight. While he is averaging 13.7 points over that time, his presence cannot be measured.

"It's been a long season. I was just a stupid kid doing stupid things. I made a mistake," Rush said. "This is the team that people should have seen at the beginning of the season. We got the chemistry down at the right time. Right now, we're rolling."

Said Washington coach Bob Bender: "Rush looks like a guy who is busy making up for lost time. It's a tribute to him, with all his ability, that he's not trying too hard on offense, but he's making an impact with his defense."

The loss of Rush in December fell into a long list of dirty laundry that began with forward Matt Barnes being declared academically ineligible in the fall.

The Bruins lost to Gonzaga by 16 points the day after Rush was suspended. They followed that with embarrassing defeats to Colorado State, Washington and USC, stirring up near-constant criticism of coach Steve Lavin.

The smog around the Los Angeles program became so thick that guard Billy Knight announced his intentions of transferring after a win over Pepperdine on Dec. 28, then rejoined UCLA five days later.

So how did the Bruins go from those sour times to one step away from the Sweet 16? The consensus has been Rush.

"Let's face it, JaRon Rush is a pretty good player," Lavin said. "Getting him back makes a big difference."

Rush feels like he's 80 percent back despite practicing with the team during the suspension.

Although he is hesitant to dribble penetrate, Rush hasn't blinked at throwing down an alley-oop pass, knocking down a three-pointer or taking over a game.

In his first appearance after his suspension, Rush was greeted by Stanford fans waving dollars and holding up signs of $200 bills with his face in the center of them.

But Rush was all smiles later, scoring eight of UCLA's 14 points in overtime to lift the Bruins to a 94-93 upset of the then-No. 1 Cardinal.

He finished with 19 points in 26 minutes and hit the game-winning jumper from the left baseline with three seconds left in overtime.

Remember, Rush still isn't exactly the joking type.

"[During my suspension], it was hard for me to just sit back and take it," Rush said.

"Now, I'm back, we're winning, and everything's going as planned."

Rush factor

A look at forward JaRon Rush's impact for UCLA:

Without Rush With Rush

Record 13-11 7-0

FG pct. .470 .508

Pts. scored 72.3 85.0

Pts. allowed 72.1 63.0

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