UCLA players are talking about "shocking the world" in their matchup against #1-ranked Arizona today in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament. A win today might be too much to ask for, but at least playing the Wildcats close and avoiding a blow-out would be a good way to end this aberration of a season...
"It's a chance to shock the world," Jason Kapono said of the prospect of UCLA beating Arizona today, then winning the Pac-10 tournament and making it to the NCAA tournament.
For all Bruin fans, it would be just that – a shock – if UCLA beat Arizona today in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament at the Staples Center.
But it would be a great shock. It would be something that might erase some of the bad memories from this season. And it's all good, it's a win-win, since there is no chance that Steve Lavin will be retained as UCLA's head coach, regardless of what kind of remarkable run the team makes here at the end of the season. Again – there are no worries here: There is no chance that Steve Lavin will be UCLA's coach next year.
Now, I know many of you just can't wait to see Steve Lavin fired. For many, it's been a long, hard road waiting for the day that the UCLA athletic director utters the words, "I've decided that Steve Lavin will no longer be the coach of UCLA."
But, really, knowing that there is no chance that Lavin will be retained after this season – letting that fully sink it – don't you want to see UCLA beat Arizona? Doesn't the memory of the two 30-point blow-out losses irk you? Wouldn't it be great to send a message to Arizona that, starting next year, UCLA will be back with a real coach and the Wildcats reign over the Pac-10 will now be challenged?
Whether that's possible is a different story. UCLA, the team that we know, can match up fairly well against some teams. But they're a really poor matchup against Arizona for three main reasons – Arizona has an inside game, they can shoot from the outside, and (at times) they play good defense. In most games this year, probably 90% of them, UCLA had equal or better talent to the teams it faced. UCLA winning those games was just really a matter if the pieces were put together right, utilized well, and if the team played hard. But against Arizona, it is a case where UCLA is clearly less talented. It would not only take a monumental effort from UCLA, but it would demand a combination of UCLA playing "on a magical level" while Arizona completely tanked.
Many prognosticators point to a potential letdown by Arizona – citing that they could be looking past UCLA, that their #1 seed in the NCAA tournament would be intact despite a loss today. But there is just as much motivation as there reasons for a letdown. It would be demoralizing to head into the NCAA tournament without having won the Pac-10 tournament, and having lost to a 9-18 UCLA team, the worst in its modern-day history. Not winning the Pac-10 tournament would definitely put a kink in their NCAA armor.
So, it seems near-impossible that UCLA will beat Arizona today. But it's fun to let yourself think about it a little. It would be rewarding to see seniors Jason Kapono and Ray Young have something to hang their seasons on, and let them leave UCLA with their head up.
But I'm getting greedy and delusional. Really, as I said in the review of the Washington game, what UCLA fans – and Kapono and Young – are looking for is a little restoration of dignity. While wishing for the dignity that a win over Arizona would provide, it's more reasonable and sane to want UCLA to play Arizona close today at Staples. Yes, many could cite something like – "You just want UCLA to play Arizona close? That's what this program has become?" Well, yes, really, that is what this program has become. The thought of a third 30-point loss to Arizona this year is just too hard to take. We're tired, as Bruin fans, of having these low-point memories of this season. And knowing that Steve Lavin is being fired regardless, it leaves you completely unencumbered to hope for UCLA not to provide you with another bad memory today, but again, to end this horrible abberation of a season with some dignity.