Thursday, March 6, 2008

Men's Basketball @ UCLA 3/6/2008

Stanford 67 UCLA 77 (OT) The best Pac-10 road trip was saved for last. After braving snow storms in Pullman, rain in Tempe, and lameness in Berkeley, it was time for the trip down to LA. Our flight out of SFO had quite a few Stanford alums going down to see the game. Good to see some Stanford spirit! We rented a car and I was dropped off on the UCLA campus. There was a men’s tennis match with cross town rivals USC going on. Both teams have good records and I watched a bit of the doubles play which UCLA was leading as I left. After a late lunch at the student union, I decided to explore the UCLA campus. Based on my travels this year, my favourite Pac-10 campuses are Washington, UCLA and Oregon in that order, and my favourite campus overall is Colorado, which has an unfair advantage with the Rockies as its backdrop.
After checking out the campus, I headed to downtown Westwood to grab some coffee and scope out the sports bar O Hara’s where I was meeting a Stanford alum and fellow Bootie. By the time six o’clock rolled by, the bar was packed with Bruins fans with a small pocket of 4 Stanford fans, including yours truly. This alum had kept an impressive 10 year streak of going to Stanford @ UCLA and USC games. Despite living in LA, he is a season ticket holder at Maples and always makes it up for the weekend game. This year, the only conference home game that he missed was Oregon. A fellow diehard! We hit it off really well. For this game, however, he was unable to get a ticket, despite requesting it months in advance, and had to resort to stubhub. How much he had to pay was still a sore subject, but I heard that uppers were going for $100 and lowers $400. Having both read a piece in today’s Daily about the lack of fan support at basketball games, we lamented the lack of student enthusiasm about basketball which he felt was also an issue back in his day (’95 – ’99). I guess some things never change.

After a drink and some food which he kindly paid for, we were pumped up and ready for the game. I have to admit that Pauley is the one arena I’ve been most excited to visit. Steeped in rich tradition with its reign of National Championships, the only other arena that could rival it is probably Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indiana. The championship banners, the history, the Den (UCLA’s student section) and the anticipation for our match up - there was a great energy to the place. Meanwhile, getting to Pauley was an absolute nightmare and Ben and his fellow radio announcer were stuck in traffic for a good two and a half hours. There was apparently a mudslide somewhere and they only made it to the arena fifteen minutes before tip off. Traffic also held up a fellow Stanford senior who lives in LA and was coming to the game. She was home this weekend and wanted to attend her first Stanford basketball game of the season (and maybe even life). Me being the nice guy I am, I got her a ticket to the hottest game in town, and up till now, the hottest ticket in my four years at Stanford. There were a decent number of Stanford fans in attendance. They were peppered around the arena with a group congregating in the visitor’s section in the uppers that was still rather UCLA heavy. One particular UCLA fan sitting in front of me took offense that I clapped loudly and cheered whenever we made a play or UCLA struggled. He gave me the stare down a couple of times coupled with mutters to friends. I stared right back. He tried to start something during half time with continued staring, but I decided to take the moral high ground approach when dealing with opposing jackass fans, smiling and asking him how he was doing, patiently explaining that I have the right as a fan who has travelled from Palo Alto to cheer for my team, and later shaking his hand and telling him good game when it was clear that we had lost.

As for the game itself, we played locked down defense, except for the repeated bites on Love pump-fakes, and rebounded pretty well in the first half. We also didn’t allow UCLA to score too many points in the open floor and off Love outlet passes. UCLA struggled from the perimeter and had many of their closer shots affected by our twin towers. Meanwhile, we hit some open looks although our passing out of the UCLA double team by our posts left much to be desired. Even though we turned the ball over somewhat, they didn’t usually lead to fast breaks and it was the slow it down, grind it out game that suits us.

In the second half, UCLA made the run that I expected them to. They started penetrating, hitting outside shots, and getting offensive boards. You need to play an almost perfect game to beat UCLA at home and at the end of the day, it was the little things like not managing the clock well with a lead, fouling someone on a put-back, not boxing out on the missed free throw, Brook not hitting both his free throws and then someone fouling Westbrook in the ensuing loose ball scrum 80 feet from the basket. The bounces went UCLA’s way. Westbrook’s first free throw that back rimmed straight up and in and then Collison drawing a foul with just under 3 seconds left when it looked like Law had defended him straight up and had just made the game-winning block.

Well, what can you do? The guys fought hard and didn’t cave, but it was the little things and bounces that determined the game. UCLA is a good team and just when you thought that Finger had stepped up big at the end of the game and Law had made the winning basket just like he did last year against Virginia, UCLA made their shots and free throws when it counted. After the game, I called out to Brevin Knight, who apparently was unable to score better seats, and had been in the opposite aisle about 5 seats away from me since half time. We shook hands and I can’t quite remember what he asked me but it was along the lines of how do you feel? And you know what? I was speaking the truth when I said that I was feeling ok. Sure it was a heartbreaker, but 8 point underdogs, our guys took it to UCLA in Pauley and never backed down. All we needed was one break to go our way and we would have won it. The game lived up to its billing and as I said to Brevin, it was a good game.
~ Zhihao

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