This game turned out to be one of the all time great games I've ever experienced at Pauley Pavilion. Starved for something to truly cheer about since 2008, when we last won the Pac-10, Pauley really came to life on the most important of days, for these 5 reasons.
1) From this league's standpoint, this win put us in a tie for the Pac-10 crown, with 2 games left. With the Washington road trip coming up (and Oregon schools at home for UA), a loss here would have essentially ended our championship hopes.
2) From the postseason standpoint, it was another chance to beat a ranked team (Arizona #10) and effectively book our place in the NCAA tournament. After missing out last year, it was imperative that we make it back.
3) From the players' point of view, this was the last game at Pauley for the majority of our playing rotation. Malcolm, Jones and Anderson will play their senior season homes games at random venues. Honeycutt will in all likelihood leave for the NBA in June, while Smith and Nelson may follow him a year from now. How sad would it have been to lose their final true home game?
4) From the historical standpoint, the last game at the classic Pauley Pavilion, college basketball's mecca, had to be a win. On a day that we honored the '71 championship team at halftime, we scored 71 points.
5) From the John-Wooden you-couldn't-write-a better-ending-to-his-legacy-at-Classic-Pauley perspective, Wooden's great grandson, walk-on Tyler Trapani, scored the last basket ever in the house that John Wooden built. Sure, it will re-open in 2012, but it will not be the way Wooden designed it. It was Trapani's first points ever at UCLA. Wooden had an astounding record of 149-2 at Pauley.
What I'll remember:
Since my days in the student section, this was the loudest I've ever heard it at Pauley. The game was sold out by fans dutifully wearing their bruin blue. Howland was as animated and excited after the win as I've ever seen him. We found out later that reflecting on Trapani's basket brought him to tears several times.
The players were as emotionally high after the win as I've seen in years, celebrating with the student section and then the fans. I was so happy for them that I could feel myself welling up. After last year's debacle, these players finally had that indelible UCLA moment - their contribution to the proud program that will forever make them true Bruins, and it will stay with them, and with us, for life.
As for the game itself, Nelson scored a career high 27 points along with his 16 rebounds. He outplayed UA's NBA-bound lottery pick Derrick Williams (15 and 10) and defensively held him to a 2 point 2nd half. Joshua Smith pounded in 17 more and Honeycutt contributed 15. Shockingly, no other player scored more than 4 - Malcolm and Lazeric combined for 5.
But this win, while attained by these determined players, was not really about them. It was about UCLA basketball, its past and its future.
After the game, UCLA allowed fans to get their pictures taken with Joe Bruin at center court. It actually went more efficiently than I expected and the fact that it was free was a nice gesture. I'm glad my wife and 2 boys will always have that memory.
This made me think about other significant games at Pauley that I've been to, as best as I can remember. (There are others, I just can't remember if I was there or not.)
1/8/1998 - over Oregon St 90-72 - my first game at Pauley, I think.
2/27/1999 - over Washington 79-62 - Baron's ridiculous dunk, his last home game.
2/15/2001 - over Arizona 79-77 - #8 Zona, we rushed the court
3/3/2001 - Stanford 69-75 - Watson's last home game (most games played record)
2/6/2002 - over USC 67-65 - Billy Knight's 3 pointer at buzzer.
12/20/2003 - over Michigan St. 64-58 - Court named after Nell and John Wooden
3/6/2008 - over Stanford 77-67 - 3rd straight Pac-10 title
1/5/2009 - over Arizona 83-60 - My 1st son's first game.
11/9/2010 - over CSULA 84-59 (exhibition) - My 2nd son's first game.
2/26/2011 - over Arizona 71-49