For UCLA, past never gets old

LSU must face Bruins, championship legacy

Ncaa Tournament

April 01, 2006|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

INDIANAPOLIS -- In the early fall, UCLA basketball coach Ben Howland hosted a barbecue at his home. He invited his current team and about 80 former players and coaches - including legendary coach John Wooden.

Over enchiladas, this year's team learned a UCLA history lesson.

"I really try to help our players be encouraged to understand how lucky they are to be a part of the fraternity they're in, which is to be a UCLA basketball player," Howland said. "That's a very special fraternity.

"What's special about that is that nowhere else in the country does anyone have the tradition and history that UCLA has in college basketball," he said. "It really is a motivator because not only are our players representing our team, they're representing the program and they're representing all the former players that played here."

The success Wooden attained at UCLA happened before any of the players on this year's roster were even born, but Howland has made sure each of them heard about it.

Now, they're playing to restore it.

UCLA, which has won an unprecedented 11 NCAA championships, hasn't won the title since 1995. Today, the Bruins (31-6) will get another chance to get to a final when they face LSU (27-8) at around 8:47 p.m.

"Just restoring that tradition is what we're playing for right now," guard Arron Afflalo said. "We're not playing for just our team, our university, we're trying to carry on something that John Wooden started that, [Jim] Harrick continued, and hopefully us."

LSU forward Glen Davis said the Tigers aren't awed by the UCLA mystique.

"Last time I checked the roster, Bill Walton wasn't playing," he said. "Kareem wasn't playing. Reggie Miller wasn't playing. ... This is a different time.

"I respect their tradition tremendously ... but right now it's time to play," he said. "UCLA, you know, is just a couple letters on the front of the jersey to me."

If the Bruins are going to have any chance of advancing to Monday's championship game, UCLA is going to have to contain the 6-foot-9, 310-pound Davis, who is known as "Big Baby." Davis has a double double in 10 of the past 15 games, and his 26 points and nine rebounds led the Tigers to a win over Texas in the Elite Eight.

"I've known him for a few years," Afflalo said. "He's just a great kid. He doesn't play like a baby on the court. That will be very interesting."

The Bruins limited Memphis to a season-low 45 points at the Oakland Arena in the regional final. In the Atlanta Regional semifinal, LSU held Duke to 27.7 percent shooting. In the regional final, the Tigers held Texas to 30.4 percent from the field.

LSU coach John Brady told his players after beating Texas that he didn't feel as he had expected to, as if the Tigers "had arrived now" that they made it to the Final Four.

There was more to do, he said, more to accomplish.

"Our team has been real resilient in that particular fact," he said. "It seems like every success they've had, they've been able to focus on the next task at hand."

UCLA, though, is focused on remembering its past.

After church on Sunday, a day after returning home from the regional final in Oakland, Howland went back to his office and talked to Wooden.

"He was great, so excited for our team, the program, his team, his program because that's what it is," Howland said. "Our players understand that aspect of it. This is always and always will be John R. Wooden's UCLA basketball program that really he started. I am at this point in time the torch bearer and carrying the flag forward."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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