Time To Believe

UCLA is on its way to the Final Four. Not just the the piddlin' Pac-10 tournament final four. The NCAA tournament Final Four, baby. It's time to forget all of the woes of this season and believe that UCLA is going to put together the most uncanny late-season run in the history of college basketball...

There isn't a better ending to a season than any Bruin fan could have wanted.  To go to the tourney's Final Four.


And we're not just talking the piddlin' Pac-10 tournament. We're talking the NCAA Final Four.


UCLA stunned Arizona, and stunned the college basketball world Thursday, beating #1-ranked Arizona in overtime, 96-89, in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament.  And it's time Bruin fans everywhere dropped their objectivity, dropped their realistic analysis of this teams' chances of going all the way, and believed.


Even though it was just one game, it's time to believe that this team is going to put together the most uncanny late-season run ever in the history of college basketball. The season has already set many records this season, why not believe that this team could be the team that advances the furthest in the NCAA tournament ever with a losing record? 


Yes, there's another big game today at 6:00, another big road block, and this ridiculous optimism might only last a few more hours. But heck, it's intoxicating. It's like a drug.


It's the feeling UCLA fans used to feel all the time.  It's the same feeling you had when Tyus Edney went the length of the court against Missouri in 1995.  It's the feeling that UCLA fans should have as a birthright (man, that sounds alarmingly like high expectations, doesn't it?). 


But this is what this kind of optimism can do for you:  Just about every UCLA fan I know that I spoke with, including myself (yes, I speak to myself) Thursday after UCLA's game believes UCLA is going to put a whipping on Oregon today.  This is against an Oregon team that beat UCLA by 30 points just two weeks ago.  Hey, big deal.  In my book, after UCLA beat Arizona, a team that beat it by 70 points during the season, that means UCLA should probably be favored today against Oregon.


Yep, this kind of optimism is hallucinatory.  But it's free, and it won't hurt me, and the potential withdrawal from it is nothing compared to the come-downs UCLA fans have experienced this season.  And yes, after this season, I'm sure my therapist would say this kind of optimism is a natural over-reaction to the disappointment we've witnessed this season. But it's cathartic.  And it's all good.


The Arizona game was as good as a drug could get.  With UCLA in hibernation, Arizona fans have justifiably been strutting for the last several years, owning the Pac-10.  So, it was satisfying to see those Arizona fans who had come all the way to Los Angeles, to the Staples Center, be sent packing considerably earlier than they had expected.  They expected to anoint themselves with another title, and just motor over the speed bump that was the UCLA basketball program on its way there.


But there is something to UCLA, to the UCLA basketball program, to that uniform, that just won't let it get beaten down too much.  There is always talent there. There is always pride.  There is the UCLA mystique.  Right now, would any team in the country want to play UCLA?


UCLA fans have to give thanks to Arizona and Lute Olson for providing us this blessing. Yes, UCLA did play well, perhaps played its best offensive half of the season.  But the Wildcats didn't play well, didn't play with energy or focus.  They put together a few good concerted efforts for short spurts, one that built them a 15-point advantage in the second half, but nothing more than a few minutes long.  It seemed like Channing Frye was the only Wildcat who came to play Thursday.  Luke Walton didn't look like he was taking it all too seriously when he was joking and smiling in the pre-game shoot-around.  Could it have been that Arizona really didn't much care about the Pac-10 tournament? Most learned observers believe that Arizona has a #1 seed sewn up for the NCAA tournament, regardless of how it did in the Pac-10 tourney.  So, really,  Lute might actually be feeling good about losing to UCLA Thursday. It probably doesn't rob him of a #1 seed, and it gives his team two less games to play, more time to rest, and doesn't risk injury.


And it gives Jason Gardner a chance to put his game back together.   (Had to put that one shot in there).


On the other hand, UCLA is playing a team in Oregon that today could be playing for its NCAA tournament life.  At 21-9 and having finished fifth in a weak Pac-10, and just a couple of wins against NCAA-tournament-projected teams (well, add the Ducks' wins over UCLA in there. Hee hee), and Oregon has some serious motivation today against UCLA.


But that doesn't matter. That all makes sense. And sense, reality and objectivity are being thrown out for the rest of the season. A season that is going to involve at least six more games.  See I'm not trying to jinx this whole thing by saying UCLA is going to win a national championship, but only offer guarded optimism by believing that UCLA will go to the Final Four.


Doesn't this feel good?


It'd be very cool to have the entire college basketball world focusing on UCLA.  They'd be 16-18 and playing in the Final Four, with a coach that still would be getting fired.  How surreal would that be? How apropo of an ending would it be to the surreal Steve Lavin era?  You have to admit, with the way the program has been under Lavin, even though it defies all logic and reality, there is a big part of you that believes it could happen. 


So, let's all believe.  After watching Ray Young throw in that 25-foot three-pointer to put the game into overtime, it's time to believe. After seeing the relief, jubiliation and justification on the faces of Young and Jason Kapono, two Bruin warriors, it's not hard to believe. 


So, all Bruin fans – Lavinistas and Trolls alike – let's unite in this one absurd common belief.  Let's finish off the worst season in UCLA history with some ridiculous optimism.  It's all free and with no strings attached. It's all good.


So, right after you read this, do what did right after I wrote it: Make reservations for New Orleans for that first weekend in April...

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