UCLA MEN’S & WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Biggest Sweet Sixteen In Bruin History

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The UCLA Bruins take on the University of Southern California Trojans in the first round of the 2017 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV on March 9, 2017. (Samuel Marshall/Eric Evans Photography) Photo courtesy of Pac-12.com

 

NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinals:

#3 seed UCLA BRUINS vs #2 seed KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Friday, March 24, 6:40 p.m.

Fed Ex Arena, Memphis, TN

TV: CBS Channel 2

 

A highlight clip of UCLA’s second round win over Cincinnati. Courtesy of YouTube

 

Normally I eschew doing game previews on this site – save for the Crosstown Rivalry football game between UCLA and USC – as there are plenty of sports sites where previews of games abound.

And while this is not a game preview per se, the fact that the men’s and women’s basketball programs at my collegiate alma mater are about to embark on the most important regional semifinals in their history can not be ignored as by the end of this weekend, the two squads at UCLA – particularly the women – will either be seen as programs among the truly elite of just another couple of good teams.

For coach Steve Alford’s band of Bruin men, they won’t just be facing a team in the Sweet 16 that’s extremely bent on avenging their losses to the Bruins these past two seasons, their loss this past December 3rd breaking a 42-game home losing streak.

Like UCLA, the Kentucky Wildcats are college basketball royalty with a long and prestigious history; only the Bruins have more national championships (11) than Kentucky’s eight.

 

UCLA’s Lonzo Ball going against a Kentucky player during the last time the two elite teams faced each other. Photo courtesy of dgnews.sduhsd.net

 

The fact that the Wildcats’ losses to UCLA, 87-77 at Pauley Pavilion in 2015 and 97-92 at Rupp Arena in Lexington this season, happened while they were ranked #1 only fuels Big Blue Nation’s quest for revenge.

Any blue blooded elite program would feel that way.

Which is why I consider this upcoming game – and weekend, for that matter – to be the biggest in Bruin history as Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Bryce Alford and company will have to play the best game of their lives to overcome Kentucky’s desire for vengeance.

While in front of a crowd that figures to be about 95% Wildcat fans.

 

Ike Anigbogu, whose defense prowess will be crucial to the Bruins’ chances this weekend. Photo courtesy of latimes.com

 

True, they have already silenced Big Blue Nation once this year, but that was in the regular season.

This is the NCAA Tournament, where one team will be going home by roughly 10:00 p.m. on Friday.

And if UCLA does beat the Wildcats, another elite blue blood, North Carolina, will likely be awaiting them in the Elite Eight.

Now do you see why I consider this weekend to be so crucially huge?

Put it like this: If those Bruins do beat Kentucky and North Carolina’s Tar Heels, who happen to be the top seed in their regional, and go on to win their 12th national championship, it would be extremely well-earned.

 

UCLA’s Lady Bruins celebrating during their first round game vs Boise State. Photo courtesy of Pac-12.com

 

And that’s just for the men as for their sisters in blue and gold…

 

 

NCAA Women’s Tournament Regional Semifinals:

#4 seed UCLA BRUINS vs #1 seed and top-ranked CONNECTICUT HUSKIES

Saturday, March 25, 10:30 a.m.

Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport, CT

TV: ESPN

 

The biggest game not only in UCLA women’s basketball history, but in my view the entire history of UCLA women’s sports, will tip-off this Saturday.

This is a game that I feel will, once and for all, define the Bruin women on the hard court because of their opponent…

An opponent that is, without a doubt, the greatest women’s college athletic program ever assembled.

Here’s the evidence:

* A winning streak of 109 games, an all-time college basketball record, with their last loss being to Stanford on November 27, 2014 (which broke a 90 game winning streak), making it an overall run of 199 wins in the past 200 games.

* Four consecutive national championships – eleven overall – and working on a fifth.

* Six undefeated seasons, and working on a seventh.

* A coach in Geno Auriemma whose general-like style has led to a winning percentage (.880) that’s the highest of any college basketball coach’s, men’s or women’s.

* A playing style that has led me to feel that they run up the score as they often beat opponents by 30 to 50 points; there have been only two games this season where the winning margin was less than ten points.

 

Highlights of the Bruins’ most recent win, a 2nd round blowout over Texas A&M in Pauley Pavilion. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

While coach Cori Close’s Bruins have had a very good season and have done quite well in the Big Dance so far, whipping Texas A&M by 32 points in the second round,

This is a crystal clear gender flip case of David vs Goliath as roughly 99.99% of the college basketball world doesn’t think that Jordin Canada, Monique Billings and the rest of their Bruin sisters will have any chance whatsoever of beating the Connecticut Huskies.

Especially since the game will be in UConn’s back yard in Bridgeport and about 99.9999% of the fans there will be for the Huskies.

However…

I’m sure that none of that matters to those 21 UCLA players, coaches and staff.

After all,

David did beat Goliath.

Muhammad Ali – while he went by the name of Cassius Clay – beat Sonny Liston.

The New York Mets beat the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series.

The New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III earlier that year.

The U.S. Olympic Hockey Team beat the Soviet Union in Lake Placid.

Rocky Balboa beat Apollo Creed (in the second movie).

Hickory High School beat South Bend Central High School in the iconic basketball movie Hoosiers; yes, I know it was based on Milan High School’s Indiana state championship in 1954.

Jordin Canada, the Bruins’ leading scorer, putting up a jump shot against Texas A&M. Photo courtesy of theintellingencer.com

 

So as far as the UCLA women’s basketball team shocking the sports world and beating  mightiest of mighty Connecticut,

WHY NOT?

That’s the mentality that those Bruin ladies need to take.

A victory would not only shock the college sports world,

It would raise UCLA Women’s basketball to elite status.

And make them true legends in Bruin Nation.

Can they do it?

Can they shock the sports universe and end the UConn dynasty?

We’ll know by roughly 2:00 p.m. Saturday.

 

UCLA forward Monique Billings (left) with coach Cori Close and guard Kari Korver (#2). Photo courtesy of insidesocal.com

USC TROJANS BASKETBALL: 2016-17 Season Wrap Up

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Trojans celebrating their defeat of Providence in the NCAA Tournament’s First Four. Photo courtesy of usctrojans.com

 

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TROJANS BASKETBALL

Final Record, 2016-17:  26-10, 10-8 and 5th place in the Pac-12 Conference

  • Beat Providence in the NCAA Tournament’s Play-In Game, 75-71
  • Beat #6 seed SMU in the NCAA Tournament’s First Round, 66-65
  • Lost to #3 seed Baylor in the NCAA Tournament’s Second Round, 82-78
  • Set the all-time program record for most wins in a season with 26

Final Rank:  None, was ranked as high as 22nd this year.

Key Players:

Bennie Boatwright, Soph. F – 15.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg (My choice for team MVP)

Chimeze Metu, Soph. F – 14.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg

Jordan McLaughlin, Jr. G – 12.9 ppg, 5.5 apg

Elijah Stewart, Jr. G – 12.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg

Seniors Leaving: 1 – Charles Buggs, F

 

Highlights of USC defeating Providence (and avenging last year’s loss), 75-71, on March 15th. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

Final Thoughts:

You have to give these Trojan hoopsters MUCH credit for what they achieved this season.

Particularly as they have and will always have an uphill battle considering the longtime iconic status and cultural emphasis of their football brothers on and off campus.

Coach Andy Enfield’s Men of Troy did much to show the Trojan Family that football shouldn’t be the only thing cared about as they won more games in a season than any previous basketball team at USC.

And with only one player graduating, the best part of this ‘SC resurgence on the hard court is this…

 

Jordan McLaughlin (#11) pushing the ball up the court against Oregon earlier this season, trailed by Chimeze Metu (#4). Photo courtesy of bustingbrackets.com

 

These Trojans are slated to be scary good on a Pac-12 title contender/going far in the NCAA Tournament scale next year.

 

Provided, of course, that – as point guard Jordan McLaughlin put it – “…everybody comes back,” as according to pundits, Bennie Boatwright and Chimeze Metu are the players most apt to turn pro.

I, however, would be surprised if either of them announces their intentions to go into the NBA Draft as I honestly don’t see them as guaranteed picks in either of the two rounds; Boatwright, in my view, has a just OK chance of being taken in the second round.

In other words, if Boatwright and Metu declare, chances are they would end up in the D-League or overseas.

Which is why I expect both of them to remain Trojans and give them a chance to do something really spectacular in 2017-18.

 

Highlights of what in my view was USC’s biggest win this season: a 66-65 triumph over SMU in the Big Dance. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

The Bottom Line:  This USC team is hungry.

VERY hungry; with what happened this year making them that way.

I’m sure that those Trojans are working out right now, wishing that next season started today and just chomping at the bit to get things going and to show folks that UCLA is not the only college basketball team in SoCal that matters.

It’s certainly how I would be feeling if I were them.

 

USC players experiencing the thrill of March Madness, reacting after beating SMU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Photo courtesy of oregonlive.com

 

 

 

LOS ANGELES MARATHON 2017: Bringing SoCal Together

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Check out the sea of runners in this year’s edition of the Los Angeles Marathon! Photo courtesy of ktla.com

 

A FEW THOUGHTS ON THE 32nd LOS ANGELES MARATHON, SOMETHING THAT BRINGS SOUTHERN CALIFORNIANS TOGETHER AT A DESPERATELY NEEDED TIME

 

It was unfortunate that because I was getting some needed sleep after an active Saturday, I was unable to catch any of yesterday’s Los Angeles Marathon on TV.

I’ve always admired anyone who can run 26.2 miles; after all, the first person who did it in 490 BC, a guy named Pheidippides who was sent to Athens to tell the people there that the Greeks had beaten the Persians in the battle of Marathon (an obvious origin of the event’s name) collapsed and died upon arrival.

The fact that it’s something that I’ve never done makes it all the more fascinating to me.

 

The men’s winner of the 2017 L.A. Marathon, Elisha Barno of Kenya, finishing with the time shown above. Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

 

 

In light of these polarizing cold Civil War-like times not only in this country, but in the world, events like this, which brings people from all walks of life together from the elite runners who take a couple of hours to finish to regular folks for whom completing the route from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica is a major milestone accomplishment, are needed more than ever.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Donald Trump supporter or see him as the devil incarnate, or if you’re a red white and blue All-American or a someone from countries like Kenya – who once again swept both the men’s and women’s winner stands this year and split the $100,000 prize money – at marathons.

 

Scenes from the final stretch of this year’s Los Angeles Marathon on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, courtesy of YouTube.

 

It’s all about enjoying the experience, in this case running through places like Beverly Hills and past landmarks like Grauman’s Chinese Theater; as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti commented:

“It’s all about the citizens who just love sports, Doesn’t matter your ability, your age, your background – we love sports.”

There was one of those 24,000 citizens who ran yesterday’s marathon who I was particularly proud of, a young woman named Christal Ryles, who happens to be my cousin and was very successful in her first L.A. Marathon, finishing just before 1:00 p.m. after five hours, 38 minutes and 29 seconds.

 

Hellen Jepkurgat, of Kenya, crosses the finish line as she wins the women’s Los Angeles Marathon, Sunday, March 19, 2017, in Santa Monica, Calif. (Thomas R. Cordova/Los Angeles Daily News via AP) Photo courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

 

To say that I and our entire extended family was very happy over her accomplishment is quite the understatement.

The only other thing I can think of to say about this city’s marathon is that it is something that is a nice unifying event and much-needed in an area as diverse as this.

Like other major marathons in cities such as New York and Boston, it is an event for the people.

Which I see as something very positive.

 

Another shot of the more than 24,000 runners taking part in the 32nd Sketchers Performance Los Angeles Marathon yesterday. Photo courtesy of geomarketing.com

 

 

 

 

SOCAL BASKETBALL IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT: Preview & Predictions of the Teams In The Big Dance

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GREAT BRUIN MEMORIES: Tyus Edney being carried off by his UCLA teammates after making his epic game-winning shot against Missouri in 1995; the Bruins would go on to win their 11th national championship. Photo courtesy of latimes.com

 

A LOOK AT UCLA’s MEN’S AND WOMEN’S TEAMS, USC’s MEN’S TEAM, AND LONG BEACH STATE’S WOMEN’S TEAM AS THEY COMPETE FOR A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

 

This is my favorite event in basketball, period.

68 teams (64 for the women).

Three weeks.

One loss and you’re out.

Lots of Davids slaying Goliaths via the buzzer beater.

Forget the NBA and the Lakers and the Clippers (unless they’re in the NBA Finals, which will certainly not be the case for either of them this year or in the foreseeable future); as far as I’m concerned, the NCAA Tournament and its Final Four marks the end of basketball season for me.

Being that the “Big Dance” commences tomorrow, here is a preview of the two men’s and two women’s teams hailing from the Los Angeles area who will be competing in this March Madness.

As well as my official predictions as to how they will do.

Let’s get started with the men…

 

Three of the many UCLA players responsible for the team’s success this year: Bryce Alford (left), Lonzo Ball (#2) and T.J. Leaf (#22). Photo courtesy of GoJoeBruin.com

 

UCLA BRUINS

Record: 29-4, 15-3 and third place in the Pac-12 Conference

  • Beat then-top ranked Kentucky and top ten Arizona on the road
  • Lost to Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals, 86-75

Rank:  8th AP, 6th USA Today

Seed:  #3 in the South Regional

First Opponent:  #14 seed Kent State in Sacramento, Friday, March 17th, 6:57 p.m. TV: Tru TV

Key Players:

T.J. Leaf, F – 16.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg

Bryce Alford, G – 15.8 ppg

Lonzo Ball, G – 14.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 7.7.apg

Thomas Welch, C – 10.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg

Issac Hamilton, G – 14.1 ppg

 

 

Highlights of the Bruins beating USC in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas and taking the season series in the Crosstown Rivalry, 76-74. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

Thoughts and My Official Prediction:

I certainly can’t make the joke about the little boy choosing to live with this team because “They haven’t beaten anybody lately,” like I did last year at this time.

These Bruins made sure of that as largely thanks to a couple of freshmen who (one of them in particular) will be millionaires playing in the NBA in about eight months, they came back with a vengeance in matching their record for most regular season wins.

No one can dispute that it has been a great season, but let’s put it like this…

UCLA will go as far as their defense will take them.

And though there has been improvement in that area in recent weeks, I feel that the Bruins are still a little too inconsistent defensively.

That’s why my official prediction of this basketball team of my collegiate alma mater regarding this tournament is thus:

Sweet Sixteen, with a chance at the Elite Eight if things go perfectly.

 

USC guard and team leader Jordan McLaughlin driving against Washington in a recent game at Galen Center. Photo courtesy of ConquestChronicles.com

 

USC TROJANS

Record:  24-9, 10-8 and fifth in the Pac-12 Conference

  • Beat UCLA at Galen Center, 84-76
  • Beat Washington, 78-73, and lost to UCLA, 76-74, in the Pac-12 Tournament

Rank:  None

Seed:  #11 in the East Regional

First Opponent:  #11 seed Providence in Dayton, OH, Wednesday, March 15th, at 6:10 p.m., with the winner to play #6 seed SMU in Tulsa, OK on March 17th.  TV: Tru TV

Key Players:

Bennie Boatwright, F – 14.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg

Chimeze Metu, F – 14.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg

Jordan McLaughlin, G – 13.1 ppg, 5.5 apg

Elijah Stewart, G – 12.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg

 

Thoughts and My Official Prediction:

Because their record was better than last season’s when they made this Big Dance, I wasn’t surprised to see these Trojans get in as I would have chosen them if I were on the selection committee.

Being that a four game losing streak, including a loss to sub-par Arizona State, put them on the bubble after there was much excitement on the USC campus over their 14-0 start and undefeated non-conference record, there’s a lesson that coach Andy Enfield needs to apply for next season:

Schedule tougher non-conference opponents and reduce the number of cupcakes that you play.

Let’s face it Trojans, teams like Pepperdine, Cornell, Omaha and Missouri State will not prepare you for the Pac-12 grind.

As for how I see things unfolding…

USC will get revenge on Providence, who beat them with a last second shot in last year’s tournament, and their athleticism will give them a decent chance at beating 11th-ranked SMU, whom they had already defeated on November 25th.

But since Duke and overall top seed and top ranked Villanova are in ‘SC’s bracket, that as far as they will get as I see those Trojans reach the…

Round of 32, which is a kind scenario as SMU is obviously NOT the same team that USC beat earlier this year.

 

 

Moving on to the women, who had the selections for their Big Dance on Monday…

 

The Lady Bruins gathering during their game against USC’s Women of Troy, won by UCLA, 71-67, on January 22nd. Photo courtesy of dailybruin.com

 

UCLA BRUINS

Record:  23-8, 13-5 and 4th place in the Pac-12 Conference

  • Beat 8th ranked and Pac-12 champion Oregon State, 66-56, on January 13th
  • Beat 6th ranked Stanford, 85-76, on January 6th
  • Currently on a 27-game home winning streak

Rank:  15th AP, 14th Coaches

Seed:  #4 in the Bridgeport Regional – will host the first two rounds at Pauley Pavilion

First Opponent:  #13 seed Boise State, Pauley Pavilion, Saturday, March 18th, 3:30 p.m. TV: ESPN2

Key Players:

Jordin Canada, G – 18.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.6 apg

Monique Billings, F – 16.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 61 blocked shots

Kennedy Burke, G – 12.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg

Kari Korver, G – 8.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg

 

UCLA’s women’s hoops completing the sweep over USC, a 71-67 win over the Trojans in Westwood, courtesy of YouTube

 

Thoughts and My Official Prediction:

One thing is prevalent in my mind regarding this UCLA team,

They would have had a much higher ranking and seeding if it weren’t for those bad losses to Oregon and (especially!) Washington State on the road.

This is a good, solid team with talented players that can hurt opponents who have had a very good season; no one should question that.

However…

When I saw these Bruins’ bracket, it was a classic case of good news/bad news as on one hand they get to host the first two rounds in their Pauley Pavilion home, but on the other hand…

Assuming they make it that far, a certain team awaits them in the regional semifinals:

The University of Connecticut Huskies, owners of a winning streak that currently stands at 107 games,

Led by a coach who’s more like a ruthless general in Geno Auriemma,

And who are the undisputed queens of women’s basketball as they have been national champions four years running and are going for a fifth straight title and 12th overall.

Those Huskies are so good, I call them the WNBA’s 13th team.

Am I saying that beating those Wonder Women will be impossible for UCLA, should that scenario arise?

No – after all, as the 1969 “Miracle” New York Mets and the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey team will tell you, there’s always the possibility.

But being the objective, impartial, and realistic member of Bruin Nation that I am, I simply can’t give my alma mater more than a minuscule chance, which is why I predict these Lady Bruins will reach the…

Sweet Sixteen, but that’s as far as they will go.

 

Long Beach State’s 49ers celebrating their selection into the NCAA Tourney. Photo courtesy of longbeachstate.com

 

LONG BEACH STATE 49ERS

Record:  23-10, 12-4 and 2nd place in the Big West Conference

  • Won the Big West Conference Tournament, beating UC Santa Barbara 56-55 on March 11th
  • Beat Cal State Northridge in the Big West Tournament semifinals on March 10th, 61-60

Rank:  None

Seed:  #15 in the Stockton Regional

First Opponent: #2 seed and 8th ranked Oregon State in Corvallis, OR, Friday, March 17th, at 2:00 p.m.  TV: ESPN2

Key Players:

Raven Benton, G – 11.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg

Anna Kim, G (Big West Tournament MVP) – 10.3 ppg, 3.8 apg

Madison Montgomery, F – 10.0 ppg

Jewelyn Sawyer, F/G – 8.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg

 

Thoughts and My Official Prediction:

I’ve always found these Big West teams interesting as they don’t get nearly the attention, the money, or the prestige of a UCLA or a USC, but have more than proved that they can play very good basketball – and any other sport.

This is certainly the case with this women’s team from Long Beach State as they deserve all the respect that a basketball fan can give them; they have certainly earned mine.

It doesn’t mean, however, that I see them making a Cinderella run in this Big Dance as those 49ers will see how the big girls – in this case the Pac-12 Champion Beavers from Oregon State – play and reality will set in.

That shouldn’t take away from their great season though.

In the proverbial thanks-for-playing scenario, my prediction for Long Beach State is…

One And Done.

 

Highlights of Long Beach State’s 61-60 win over Cal State Northridge in the Big West Tournament, courtesy of YouTube

 

 

 

 

BOB MILLER RETIRING: An Appreciation of the Vin Scully of Hockey

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The third of a golden trifecta of Los Angeles sportscasters along with Vin Scully and the Lakers’ great Chick Hearn. Photo courtesy of lapostexaminer.com

 

THOUGHTS OF THE MAN WHO ESSENTIALLY BROUGHT HOCKEY TO SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA THROUGH HIS MICROPHONE.

The Dodgers had (of course!) Vin Scully, wishing people a “Pleasant good afternoon, wherever you may be.”

The Lakers had Chick Hearn talking about how games were “In the refrigerator; the door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cold, the butter’s getting hard and the jello is jiggling!”

Both men brought baseball and pro basketball to the Los Angeles area through their words.

Bob Miller did the same for the Kings, and hockey in general; whoever would have thought that a winter sport born and based in Canada would have a chance to do well, let along thrive, in a warm weather climate otherwise?

For 44 years, he was the voice of the team that brought the National Hockey League – and hockey in general – to the West Coast.

And had the honor (I’m sure!) of calling the Kings’ two Stanley Cup titles.

 

Bob Miller’s call of the Kings winning their first Stanley Cup in 2012, courtesy of YouTube.

 

I have to be honest…

Though I was happy to see the Kings win those two Cups, I’m not much of a hockey fan.

I’ve never put on ice skates in my life, and despite people trying to explain it to me I still don’t understand what icing means.

I’ve never been to a hockey game in person and haven’t seen one on TV all the way through.

 

Bob Miller with the single greatest trophy in all of sports: Lord Stanley’s Cup (on the right). Photo courtesy of thehockeywriters.com

 

Plus compared to the other major sports in this country, hockey – until fairly recently as it is improving in this area – hasn’t exactly been known for its racial or ethnic diversity.

Which as opposed to baseball and particularly football and basketball had quite the influence on me as a kid.

 

Miller’s second iconic call; during the Kings’ epic Stanley Cup-clinching win over the New York Rangers in 2014, courtesy of YouTube.

 

Nevertheless…

One doesn’t have to be a hockey person to appreciate a man like Miller, whose brilliance on the mike at the Forum and later Staples Center for 44 seasons had just as much an impact as Hearn’s at the same venues and Scully’s at Dodger Stadium.

My biggest memory of Miller, who was inducted into Hockey’s Hall of Fame in 2000, was the fact that he served as the voice calling the Mighty Ducks games in those movies, particularly the 1994 sequel, D2, when those Bad News Bears of Hockey were playing big bad Iceland in the Junior Olympics Finals.

It saddened me when I heard about his failing health and his plans to call the Kings’ last two regular season home games on April 8th and 9th.

Along with Scully and Hearn, Miller was the last of a golden trifecta of sportscasters whom sports in Southern California wouldn’t be the powerful institution that it is without them.

It goes without saying that I wish Bob Miller nothing but the best in retirement after April 9th.

And that he – along with Scully, of course – lives a long time.

 

A special SoCal Sports Annals announcement concerning our hockey coverage:

Although we will not abandon our coverage of the Kings, the Ducks, and hockey in general,

Our resident “Hockey Lady”, Nichole Choice, has moved to Sacramento.

Since it wouldn’t make sense for her to write about Southern California sports when she lives in Nor Cal, it was time to bid adieu, but not without stating this…

It was an absolute pleasure to have Nichole as our Hockey Lady for the past two years  as her enthusiasm and sunny disposition were quite infectious.

It was essential for the growth of this site.

For that, I am forever grateful.

And I – to state the obvious – wish Nichole absolutely nothing but the best.

 

The golden trifecta of sports broadcasting in Los Angeles and Southern California: The Kings’ Bob Miller (left), the Lakers’ Chick Hearn (center) and the Dodgers’ Vin Scully (right). Photo courtesy of usatoday.com

 

 

 

CROSSTOWN RIVALRY BASEBALL: USC Comeback Beats UCLA In Extra Innings At Dodger Stadium

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UCLA and USC lining up on their respective base lines before the start of their Crosstown Rivalry Game at Dodger Stadium. Photo courtesy of twitter.com

 

TROJANS GRAB MOMENTUM IN LATER INNINGS AND BEAT THE BRUINS ON A COLD AFTERNOON IN CHAVEZ RAVINE

Last year in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, after being down 3-0 UCLA used a triple to tie the score, then took advantage of a USC error in extra innings and beat the Trojans.

Almost the exact opposite happened this year as after spotting the Bruins a 3-0 lead, USC used a two run triple to help them score in the sixth and took advantage of a UCLA error in the tenth inning to score the winning run, reacting like they had won the College World Series as they beat the Bruins 4-3.

5,227 shivering members of the Trojan Family and Bruin Nation, bundled up in hoodies and jackets, were at Dodger Stadium on Sunday to watch this Crosstown Rivalry clash.

I was one of them, and as a storm was passing through Los Angeles earlier in the day it marked my first rainy day experience at Dodger Stadium; like more or less everyone else I found myself using towels to wipe up my seat.

Thankfully the skies had cleared up by the time the Bruins and Trojans took the field, though it was still cold as I was once again doing double duty, keeping score of the game while playing the tenor saxophone in the UCLA Alumni Band, who along with USC’s band, Song Girls and cheer squad provided the Crosstown Rivalry spirit.

 

 

Highlights from USC’s 4-3, extra inning comeback win over UCLA on Sunday, courtesy of YouTube.

 

 

As for the game itself and how I saw the two teams…

Being a longtime baseball/softball guy, my main impression was that the Bruins and the Trojans were pretty evenly matched.

It can be said that it was two separate games as UCLA starter Jon Olsen was dealing, using a minimum of pitches in striking out nine Trojans and thoroughly out-pitching his ‘SC counterpart, Marrick Crouse, who was all over the place in his three innings plus of work, giving up the game’s only home run to Bruin second baseman Chase Strumpf in the 2nd inning.

When Chris Clarke replaced Crouse and proceeded to shut the Bruins down, giving up but one hit and striking out five in his 5.2 innings of work, I remarked to some Trojan fans that Clarke, with his 6’ 7″ frame and fastball in the 90 MPH range, should have been the one starting.

That in itself, along with UCLA failing to break the game wide open when they had bases loaded in the 3rd inning with no outs and only came up with one run, was the big momentum shift in the contest.

Which was punctuated by the USC player who along with Clarke was co-MVP of the game, first baseman Lars Nootbaar, as he got to an out-of-gas Olsen in the sixth with a two-out, two-run triple that came within a few feet of clearing the right field fence, scoring the tying run a moment later on center fielder Matthew Acosta’s single and driving the Trojan fans nuts.

Nootbaar’s heroics were not done as after UCLA pitcher Scott Burke dropped a throw on what would have been a sure out at first base in the tenth, the ‘SC sophomore (again, with two out), lashed a double to score pinch runner John Thomas all the way from first.

Add 15 pitches from closer Solomon Burke and a nice reaching catch of a pop up from  – you guessed it, Nootbaar – and the Trojan band was playing “Conquest” as while it wasn’t nearly as epic as their football brothers’ win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl two months before,

You couldn’t have told ‘SC’s baseball team that as being a school with a philosophy, personality, and culture of (sometimes extreme) pride, any Trojan team that beats UCLA – or any school for that matter – seems to celebrate afterwards on a level akin to winning the NBA Finals or the FIFA World Cup.

The phrase “Act like you’ve won before” does not apply to students, athletes, alumni and fans of the University of Southern California, folks.

 

USC 1B Lars Nootbaar’s triple in the 6th inning, driving in two runs and solidifying the Trojans’ momentum. Photo courtesy of culvercityobserver.com

 

As for the future…

These two teams will meet again May 4th-6th at Dedeaux Field on USC’s campus.

And as for how I see the Bruins and Trojans faring on the diamond in 2017;

While you can’t judge anything based on one game, so far I see UCLA as being like other teams in recent years; good pitching and fielding with not nearly enough hitting save for Sean Bouchard and his .371 average with four homers – and he went 0-for-4 with a walk against ‘SC!

Bruin cleanup hitter Michael Toglia’s three strikeouts on Sunday illustrates UCLA’s futility at the plate – he’s batting .161!

Not only that, Toglia’s one of four Bruins in the starting lineup who are currently batting under .200 (YUCK!)

USC? Nootbaar’s hitting – .406 average and four home runs – is going to carry this team as these Trojans seem to have better hitters than their Westwood rivals.

Of course I’ll know a LOT more on May 5th…

 

Nootbaar’s reaction after hitting a double that drove in USC’s winning run on the 10th inning. Photo courtesy of trbimg.com

 

 

 

SO CAL WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: A Look At Some Selected College Teams

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UCLA’s Jordin Canada pushing the ball up the court with USC’s Aliyah Mazyck trailing during a game at the Galen Center. Photo courtesy of fi360news.com

 

CHECKING OUT WHAT SOCAL HAS TO OFFER IN WOMEN’S HOOPS

 

I’ve never felt that the emphasis should be solely on men and men’s sports on this blog, as an important goal is to make sure that women are well featured.

The various articles covering the WNBA’s Sparks and UCLA’s Gymnastics team on this site attest to this.

Which is why I’m making a point to write this article featuring women’s college basketball and the best that this region has to offer.

Let’s check out some of these teams, starting with my alma mater:

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Pushing the ball up the court at Pauley Pavilion…

 

UCLA BRUINS

Record: 22-7, 13-5 and fourth place n the Pac-12 Conference

Rank: #15 in both the AP and Coaches polls

Coach: Cori Close, 6th year

Highlights:

* Swept crosstown rival USC, 74-59 in Galen Center and 71-67 in Pauley Pavilion

* Went undefeated at home, 14-0

Last Game: Beat Arizona State in Tempe, 55-52, on February 26th

Next Game: Pac-12 Tournament in Seattle, WA as the #4 seed, vs. either #5 Arizona State or #12 Utah, March 3rd at 2:00 p.m.

Top Players:

Jordin Canada, 5′ 6″ Jr. G – 17.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.7 apg

Monique Billings, 6′ 4″ Jr. F – 13.9 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 58 blocked shots

Kennedy Burke, 6′ 1″ So. G – 12.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg,

Brief Thoughts:

It’s a real pity that these Bruin ladies have been in the shadow of their third ranked, “Showtime” hoops brothers, because they have had a very good season of their own.

The only thing that has kept UCLA out of the top ten and off the short list of Final Four contenders are losses to the Washington and Oregon schools in the Pacific Northwest.

Take away those four setbacks, and those Bruins are 26-3 and easily in the top five, with people talking about the possibility of them taking down the top ranked with the over 100 game winning streak Supergirls of Connecticut

I’m very much looking forward to seeing how they do in the Pac-12 Tournament and how far they will go in the “Big Dance”.

 

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Going for a lay up at the Galen Center…

 

USC TROJANS

Record: 14-15, 5-13 and tied for ninth place in the Pac-12 Conference

Coach: Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, 3rd year

Highlight:

* Beat 8th ranked and Pac-12 regular season champion Oregon State at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, OR, 70-50, on February 10th

Last Game: Lost to Arizona in Tucson, 67-62, on February 26th

Next Game: Pac-12 Tournament as the #9 seed, vs California, March 2nd at 11:30 a.m.

Top Players:

Kristen Simon, 6′ 1″ Jr. F – 14.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg

Minyon Moore, 5′ 8″ Fr. G – 11.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.0 apg

Courtney Jaco, 5′ 8″ Sr. G – 10.7 ppg, 2.6 apg

Brief Thoughts:

To state the obvious, this season hasn’t gone the way these Women of Troy had planned as they have lost four of their last five games and are currently on a three game losing streak.

But you know what?

This is a team from USC, with all the “Fight On!” pride that goes along with that, and as evidenced by them beating Oregon State in their house, I wouldn’t be too surprised if they won a couple of games in the conference tournament.

After all, those Trojans have nothing to lose, and that makes for a dangerous team.

 

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The 49ers celebrating…

 

LONG BEACH STATE 49ers

Record: 20-9, 11-3 and second place in the Big West Conference

Coach: Jody Wynn, 8th year

Highlight:

* This marks Long Beach State’s third straight 20-win season.

Last Game: Beat UC Irvine, 87-74, on February 25th

Next Game: Cal State Northridge at the Walter Pyramid on March 2nd (Tonight!)

Top Players:

Raven Benton, 5′ 10″ Sr. G – 10.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg

Madison Montgomery, 6′ 1″ Sr. F – 10.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 29 blocked shots

Anna Kim, 5′ 5″ Sr. G – 10.0 ppg, 3.7 apg

Jewelyn Sawyer, 6′ 0″ Sr. F/G – 9.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg

Brief Thoughts:

Two impressions came to mind when I did research of this team…

1. Their offense is extremely well spread out as their top three scorers are all averaging ten points a game, and…

2.  These 49ers are exclusively led by seniors, meaning that the window is closing fast as far as being contenders for the Big West tournament championship and the NCAA Tournament.

 

 

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CSUN’s Matadors celebrating a Big West Tournament title in 2014…

 

CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE MATADORS

Record: 17-11, 10-4 and third place in the Big West Conference

Coach: Jason Flowers, 7th year

Highlight:

* Currently on a nine game winning streak!

Last Game: Beat UC Riverside, 79-70, on February 25th

Next Game: at Long Beach State on March 2nd (Tonight!)

Key Players:

Channon Fluker, 6′ 4″ So. C – 17.2 ppg, 11.6 rpg

Serafina Maulupe, 5′ 8″ Jr. G – 13.9 ppg

Tessa Boagni, 6′ 2″ Jr. F – 6.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg

Brief Thoughts:

That nine game winning streak, more than doubling CSUN’s win total from eight to 17, and the numbers that Channon Fluker has really jumped out at me when I checked out this program.

Simply put, these Matadors from the San Fernando Valley are on fire!

And are scheduled for a showdown as they travel 46 miles (about an hour’s drive) down the 405 Freeway to Long Beach for a clash with the 49ers tonight.

Any team that has won nine games in a row is dangerous.

That’s why the upcoming Big West Tournament on March 7-11 will be quite exciting as this is a team that is more than capable of beating anyone – save for Connecticut – at the moment.

 

 

Highlights of UCLA getting the sweep over USC at Pauley Pavilion, winning 71-67 on January 22nd. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

 

 

CROSSTOWN RIVALRY: An Update on the 2016-17 Crosstown Cup

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The crowd at a UCLA-USC football game distinctly split between Bruin Nation and Trojan Family lines. Photo courtesy of dailynews.com

 

A LOOK AT HOW THINGS ARE GOING WITH L.A.’S TWO BIGGEST INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING WITH REGARDS TO THE SPORTS THEY PLAY AGAINST EACH OTHER

 

Since 2001, there has been a school year-long contest in Los Angeles’ Crosstown Rivalry featuring all of the teams from UCLA and USC that play each other, with the winner getting the BMW Crosstown Cup.

BMW began sponsoring this competition in 2014 after Lexus ended their sponsorship in 2009 after nine years, when it was called the Lexus Gauntlet.

The current rules to win the cup are: Ten points are awarded to the winner in each UCLA vs USC contest.

The Trojans won the Crosstown Cup last year with 120 points to UCLA’s 70, and built on a five-year winning streak from 2007-12 to lead the series ten to five.

However, the Bruins, on the strength of sweeps by their women’s basketball and volleyball teams and wins by both the men’s and women’s tennis teams this weekend, are currently ahead in this year’s standings, 60-40.

 

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T.J. Leaf scoring on USC’s Chimeze Metu during UCLA’s 102-70 butchering of USC, with Lonzo Ball (#2) and De’Anthony Melton (#22) looking on. Photo courtesy of ca.sports.yahoo.com

 

Here is what happened in this year’s Crosstown Cup so far:

Football: USC, 36-14

Men’s Basketball: UCLA & USC split, 84-76 and 102-70

Women’s Basketball: UCLA swept, 74-59 and 71-67

Men’s Volleyball: UCLA, 3-1

Women’s Volleyball: UCLA swept, 3-1 and 3-2

Women’s Soccer: UCLA, 1-0

Men’s Water Polo: USC swept, 8-7 and 9-6

Women’s Water Polo: USC, 10-9

Men’s Tennis: UCLA, 4-3

Women’s Tennis: UCLA, 4-3

Women’s Swim/Dive: USC, 172-128 (10th win in a row over the Bruins)

Women’s Cross-Country: UCLA, 7th place to 12th place

 

Highlights from the Bruins’ blowout of the Trojans at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

As for upcoming clashes between these two schools…

The rivalry will be renewed in a sport where the Bruins have never beaten ‘SC, women’s beach volleyball, this Saturday March 4th while the men’s tennis teams go at it again on the 9th.

Since 2010, along with the three regular season games that they play against each other every year, UCLA’s and USC’s baseball teams have met in Dodger Stadium as part of the annual Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic.

It has become quite the large event with crowds as large as 15,000 – great for a college baseball game in March – and this year should be no different as the Bruins and Trojans will clash in Chavez Ravine this Sunday, March 5th.

 

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The women’s basketball version of the Crosstown Rivalry being played out at USC’s Galen Center.

 

SoCal Sports Annals will be there and have a full (and rare, as we usually don’t do recaps of games) recap of the game next Monday.

The games between UCLA and SC will resume in earnest in late April as sports like women’s rowing and men’s and women’s golf go at it, with a longtime staple of the Crosstown Rivalry, the annual track and field meet (both genders) will be held at Loker Stadium on the USC campus on April 30th.

The Bruin and Trojan men have met on the track since 1934, the women since 1984.

Being that ten points are awarded for every win, combined with the fact that most of the contests have been close – with the exception of football and the Bruin men’s basketball’s recent 102-70 pasting of the Trojans – this Crosstown Cup competition looks like it may well go down to the end of May.

We’ll see…

 

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The Bruin and Trojan baseball teams clashing at USC’s Dedeaux Field. Photo courtesy of pac-12.com

SOCAL COLLEGE BASKETBALL 2017: The Best of the Rest

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UCI's locker room was very quiet as the team comes to terms with almost beating Louisville the second round game of the 2015 NCAA Basketball Championship in Seattle on Friday. /ADDITIONAL INF0 - 01.ucibk.0321.mg - 03/17/2015 - MANDATORY CREDIT: MICHAEL GOULDING, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER UCI plays Louisville in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Basketball Championship.

UCI’s locker room was very quiet as the team comes to terms with almost beating Louisville the second round game of the 2015 NCAA Basketball Championship in Seattle on Friday.
/ADDITIONAL INFO – 01.ucibk.0321.mg – 03/17/2015 – MANDATORY CREDIT: MICHAEL GOULDING, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
UCI plays Louisville in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Basketball Championship. Photo courtesy of ocregister.com

 

SOCAL’S COLLEGE HOOPS TEAMS NOT NAMED THE UCLA BRUINS OR USC TROJANS THAT ARE HAVING SOLID SEASONS

 

I always make it a point on this site to write at least one article that pays at least some attention to the college basketball teams in the greater Los Angeles area not located in Westwood or south of downtown L.A. that are having solid, if not outstanding, seasons.

Which is one reason why I call them “The Best of the Rest” along with the fact that these teams are from what are called “Mid Major” conferences, leagues made up of schools outside the “Power Five” conferences such as the Pac-12, the Big Ten, and the SEC.

These are the colleges that don’t necessarily have the budgets or endowments of a USC or UCLA; very few of them have football teams due to lack of funding, and they schedule big name schools in their non-conference junket in order to earn the large paychecks that often keep their programs going.

These are also the colleges whose facilities, while perfectly acceptable, and arena capacities don’t quite match up with Pauley Pavilion or the Galen Center; the Matadome, where Cal State Northridge plays, seats just 2,400.

This season there are two teams that can be classified as the “Best of the Rest”, both a part of the Big West Conference and both located in Orange County.

In fact, they played each other last night and are very much in the hunt for the Big West title.

Being that they are “Mid-Major” schools in the eyes of the NCAA, they will need to win their conference tournament in order to earn a ticket to the “Big Dance”.

Let’s take a look at these two teams…

 

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UC Irvine players standing for the national anthem at the Bren Center, their home arena. Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

 

UC IRVINE ANTEATERS

Current Record: 16-13, 9-4 and tied for first place in the Big West Conference

Most Recent Game: Lost to Cal State Fullerton, 56-54, on February 22nd

Next Game: Saturday, February 25th vs Cal State Northridge

Team Leaders:

Luke Nelson, Sr. G – 15.4 ppg,

Jaron Martin, Sr. G – 13.5 ppg, 3.3 apg

Ioanis Diamakopoulos, Sr. C (7’2″) – 11.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg

Coach:  Russell Turner, 6th year

Thoughts:

This is a good program; I hope those Anteaters don’t let anyone tell them otherwise as they gave Louisville a scare in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

They played three ranked teams out of conference, losing to 4th ranked Arizona and 12th ranked Saint Mary’s rather convincingly but pushing 25th ranked California to overtime before falling 75-65 to the Golden Bears in Berkeley on November 16th.

I wouldn’t be surprised if UC Irvine gets into March Madness and scores an upset over a big name in the first round.

 

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Cal State Fullerton’s Jamal Smith (#12) and Richard Peters (#22) chatting during a recent game. Photo courtesy of fullertontitans.com

 

CAL STATE FULLERTON TITANS

Current Record:  14-12, 8-5 and tied for third in the Big West Conference

Most Recent Game:  Beat UC Irvine, 56-54, on February 22nd

Next Game:  Saturday, February 25th at Hawaii

Team Leaders:

Tre Coggins, Sr. G – 17.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg

Lionheart Leslie, Sr. G – 106 ppg, 3.8 rpg

Jackson Rowe, Fr. F – 104 ppg, 7.0 rpg

Coach:  Dedrique Taylor, 4th year

Thoughts:

These Titans were impressive in splitting the Orange County bragging rights last night, coming back to beat their Irvine counterparts (the Anteaters beat them on January 14th).

Rowe’s seven rebounds a game stands out among the stats; that has certainly been a key for Cal State Fullerton being in the thick of things in the conference.

That rebounding presence that Rowe provides will be needed for the Titans to have any chance at winning the Big West Tournament and being one of the 68 teams selected for the NCAA Tournament.

 

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A CSUF Titan dribbling the ball up the court. Photo courtesy of espn.go.com

 

COMING NEXT WEEK:

A look at the best of SoCal’s women’s college basketball teams, including UCLA and USC.

 

 

 

THE PRIDE OF BRUIN NATION: An Update On UCLA Gymnastics

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I think everyone will agree that this is a VERY nice photo of this honor to the UCLA community. Photo courtesy of issuu.com

 

HOW THINGS ARE GOING WITH WESTWOOD’S GYMNASTS AND THE ATMOSPHERE AT THEIR HOME MEETS

 

The Short Answer:

UCLA’s gymnastics team is having an outstanding season!

And I’ve been having an absolute blast watch these young ladies from my alma mater!

 

Now To Elaborate:

As I was watching the Bruins’ last two home meets while performing double duty playing tenor saxophone with the UCLA Alumni Band, who has played at their meets since 2003,

I knew there was a reason why I considered this gymnastics team an absolute honor to Bruin Nation.

And I knew there was a reason why I considered this team my favorite in all of sports as they have done nothing but thrill the large crowds that have come to Pauley Pavilion, averaging 6,513 fans in their three meets so far with a high of 7,009 for their meet against Stanford on February 11th.

 

Presenting Kyla Ross’ perfect ten on the balance beam, achieved on February 20th. Courtesy of YouTube

 

Which once again is the highest attendance for all of UCLA’s sports save for football and men’s basketball.

Though it has played a huge part, the excitement and the just plain fun atmosphere that these Bruin gymnasts provide in Pauley has not only come from the three perfect tens (out of five overall this season) that Madison Kocian and Christine Peng Peng Lee scored on the uneven parallel bars – in the same meet, no less – against Stanford and that Kyla Ross achieved on the balance beam in yesterday’s tri-meet against Bridgeport and Utah State.

 

Madison Kocian scoring a perfect ten on the uneven bars against Stanford on February 11th. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

 

Which incidentally was her third perfect ten of the season as she has reached perfection on the uneven bars twice,

The exciting atmosphere at these meets has stemmed from the enthusiasm that coach Valorie Kondos Field’s band of Bruins have provided.

A big example of this enthusiasm was at the Stanford meet, where I (and what I’m sure were the 7,000 other fans) couldn’t help but notice how whenever someone did a great job at an apparatus, she was attacked and mobbed like she had just scored the goal to win the Stanley Cup and kicked the winning field goal in the Super Bowl – combined.

 

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Stella Savvidou’s teammates showing some enthusiastic love after her bars routine against Stanford. Photo courtesy of dailybruin.com

 

Not to mention all the dancing around – to keep things loose, I know – between events as it was crystal clear that those athletes loved being UCLA gymnasts and really loved each other.

As well as the crowd as they make it a point to high-five their fellow UCLA students sitting on the sidelines after their final event.

That sense of enthusiastic fun can’t help but spread all over Pauley, where along with being the MC at the meets and getting the crowd pumped up, Rick Coy does a great job talking to the kids as they undoubtedly get a thrill out of being asked who their favorite Bruin gymnast was and being told that they won some prize among various other things.

 

 

Christine Peng Peng Lee joining the perfect ten party, following Kocian’s perfection with a ten of her own. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

UCLA’s Alumni Band is likewise an essential part of all the fun with the tunes that they play; being a member of such band, I know that first hand.

Simply put, these are outstanding young student athletes that are the epitome of what college sports should be about; I don’t ever have to worry about them getting suspended or arrested or in any other kind of trouble like seemingly too many college athletes nowadays.

Which I think is a significant reason why this UCLA gymnastics team is my favorite; they are wonderful role models and just plain good people.

 

Katelyn Ohashi wowing the crowd with the enthusiasm she exuded in this floor exercise in the February 20th meet, which earned her an outstanding 9.90. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

If what I’m stating is making anyone want to come check out a meet and experience all the fun for themselves, there are three home meets left, starting this Saturday, February 25th.

As for their chances of winning their 7th national championship (and the school’s NCAA-leading 114th), they obviously have an excellent chance of picking up that plaque in St. Louis on the weekend of April 15th if things go their way.

For more info on the remaining meets, here’s the Bruin website: http://www.uclabruins.com

 

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Hallie Mossett doing an excellent floor routine against Stanford. Photo courtesy of dailybruin.com