Mixed Feelings

UCLA upsets Cal in overtime at Pauley Pavilion, 76-75. At this point, every win -- and every loss -- presents a bag of mixed feelings for UCLA fans. Here are your mixed feelings put into words, as sort of a cathartic release...

In the last several years, every season, the UCLA basketball team beats a highly-ranked team and salvages some of its season.


This year it might be the same script, but just that everything is relative.  It used to be that, in recent years, UCLA would be, say 14-8, and then beat someone like #1 ranked Stanford, which would give them a big out-of-conference win to get a higher seed in the NCAA tournament. This year, they were 5-16, and they beat #20-ranked California, to possibly get a seed in the Pac-10 tournament.


So, if we follow that scenario, but considering it all relative to this season, UCLA should make a mini-run here at the end of the season, and then get a surprise win in the Pac-10 tournament.  Possibly getting to the second round of the Pac-10 tournament is the equivalent of a second round win in the NCAA tournament this year.


But, in reality, what does the win last night against Cal in overtime mean? 


If you're a confused, downtrodden and disgruntled UCLA fan (is there any different kind right now?), it creates many ambiguous feelings.


On one hand, it was great to see the players win on their home court. It was great to see Dijon Thompson hit the game winner.  It was great to see the team walk off the court with smiles on their faces rather than disgrace. No matter how numb you've become to the program, it still hurts every time you see anyone wearing a UCLA jersey walk off the court in disgrace.


But on the other hand, this win very well could prolong the agony.  It puts UCLA solidly in the hunt for a Pac-10 tournament berth. If UCLA did make the Pac-10 tournament, it would prolong the season at least another five days, and possibly a full week, or as a result of a miracle, even longer.  For many very true-blue UCLA fans, the season  -- and the program – have become unbearable. And despite acknowledging winning at the end of the season here might be productive for the players and next season, many UCLA fans, at this point, just want the Steve Lavin era to be put out of its misery as quickly as possible.


On the other hand, there truly is no worry that, no matter what kind of run this team would make, that Steve Lavin would be retained as UCLA's coach.  Even if the team miraculously won the Pac-10 tournament, got the automatic NCAA tournament bid and somehow won a few games and made it to the Sweet 16 once again.  Even if the team went to the friggin' Final Four. There is absolutely no worry that Steve Lavin will be retained as UCLA's head coach. And, also, if the team keeps its season alive, it's only prolonging the firing of Lavin, but not really prolonging the hiring of the new coach.  The new coach search will almost certainly have to take place after all of the prospective candidates have finished their season, and more than likely that's not until at least the first week in April or so.  And then, that would merely be when the candidate search and interviewing process could proceed unencumbered, which could still mean the naming of the new coach could be some time after that.   So, therefore, knowing UCLA will have a new coach next year regardless, and knowing it won't really dramatically affect the time frame of hiring the new coach, that enables many UCLA fans to really root for this team.  Every win, every good trip down the floor, is something to build on for the future.


On the other hand, with every win, UCLA fans have to listen to more Steve Lavin's spin, and more revolting stories and opinions from the media.  It provides more opportunity for Lavin and the media to smear the UCLA coaching job, the UCLA program and UCLA basketball fans.  I don't think there is a true UCLA fan alive who doesn't want Steve Lavin to leave his office and the UCLA campus as soon as possible and hopefully take a very long vacation where he can work on his tan and stay away from any microphones.


On the other hand, it'd be very nice to give outgoing seniors Ray Young and Jason Kapono some hint of success to feel good about as they wind down their UCLA careers.  You have to feel for both of them. These are two fine young men who decided to come to UCLA and play basketball, and they've been severely shortchanged in the coaching and quality of the program they received. Yes, they have no one to blame but themselves for being bamboozled into playing for Lavin, but they also came to UCLA because it was UCLA.  Any kid who comes to UCLA is coming to the school because of everything that's exceptional about it, and that kid, no matter who he is, deserves the support, admiration and well wishes of every UCLA fan.


On the other hand, do we really have to witness the UCLA student section rushing the court after merely beating Cal?  I know this year you haven't been there before, but please, students, act like you've been there before. Take a look up -- see those 11 banners?  Rushing the court when UCLA beats #20-ranked Cal pretty much renders the program to the level of say, Pacific or Santa Clara. And if you're talking about surreal potential scenarios, it creates a potential situation where UCLA will be playing for the eighth and last Pac-10 tournament berth when it faces off against Washington for the last game of the season at Pauley. Please, I can't even fathom the fans rushing the court and cutting down the nets if UCLA wins that game.  It's Walt Hazzard's 1985 NIT Championship all over again, but worse. There's a reason why UCLA took down that NIT banner from the rafters of Pauley Pavilion.


On the other hand, one of the most painful things to witness personally are boos in Pauley Pavilion. Even if they are targeted at Lavin, it affects the players, and it affects the overall environment of the program. If wins will keep the fans from booing, that might be the best reason to want UCLA to keep winning this season.


On the other hand, the Mother of All Records, the NCAA-record 54-year streak of consecutive winning seasons, has almost certainly been snapped (UCLA would have to win out in the regular season, win the Pac-10 tournament and go to the NCAA championship game to have a winning record this season).  While many UCLA fans don't feel that was a significant thing, and it really isn't in terms of the program, it was probably the last bastion that had been kept out of the way of the wrecking ball Lavin's program has been to the UCLA record book.  So, without that record salvageable, for many UCLA fans, it takes away another big motivation to really want the team to rack up some wins.


Really, the bottom line here is that with every win – or even every loss – UCLA fans have many mixed feelings.  But it's not too hard, really, to combine the best aspects of the mixed feelings to provide yourself a manageable mindset for the rest of the season. Just take the positive aspects of each side of the argument. Here it is in a nutshell:  Acknowledge that only good can come from UCLA winning, and no matter how much they win, a new era of UCLA basketball will begin next month.

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