A nice shot of Pauley Pavilion, home to UCLA Basketball, Volleyball, and Gymnastics, during a hoops contest. Photo courtesy of stadiumjourney.com
GOING TO MY FIRST BRUIN HOOPS CONTEST SINCE THE 2012 RENOVATION OF UCLA’s ICONIC ARENA
I want to make something clear before I go on with this article:
As I have mentioned numerous times on this site, I am an alumnus of UCLA.
Not only that, I have been to Pauley Pavilion on campus roughly 150 times over the 27 years since I first arrived as a student in Westwood, attending basketball, volleyball and gymnastics events.
My experiences in that iconic arena, celebrating its 50th anniversary, have been varied…
That February day in 1990 when the UCLA retired the jerseys of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (known as Lew Alcindor during his Bruin days), Bill Walton, Ann Meyers and Denise Curry?
I was there, as a member of the Bruin Varsity Band, and got Walton’s and Meyer’s autographs on my program – which I still have.
The big celebration rally of the basketball team’s 1995 championship, featuring the unveiling of the program’s 11th banner and everybody screaming so loud at the sight of Ed O’ Bannon, Tyus Edney and their teammates?
I was there, having to hold my ears due to the frenzy being at such a fever pitch.
That time in 2007 when the women’s gymnastics team beat a Georgia squad that had been working on a streak of five consecutive national championships and 27 straight wins, beating 57 straight opponents in the process?
I was there, as a member of the UCLA Alumni Band.
And I also had the pronounced privilege to not only meet the greatest coach in the history of sports, John Wooden, in that building, but to also get his autograph on two occasions, once as a student on a program after a basketball game and once as an alum after a gymnastics meet about a year before he passed away (both of which I still have).
In case you are asking, “So what’s your point?” right about now, here it is:
As I journeyed to Pauley Pavilion to catch a basketball game the Bruins were playing against Louisiana-Lafayette in a non-conference contest, I reckoned that because I have been there so many times, and have such a long history with that place, this wouldn’t be the easiest article to write as I know the place about as well as a member of Bruin Nation should know it.
Even though this was the first men’s basketball game I attended at Pauley since the big renovation in 2012; I had attended many gymnastics meets, but not men’s hoops.
As it turned out, there were a few things worth mentioning, that impressed me.
I had a nice time talking to some of the cheerleaders greeting fans on the concourse before the game.
And I was also surprisingly impressed at the food choices that Pauley had, as it went beyond the usual hot dogs, nachos, candy, soda, and other various junk that is so common at all sporting venues.
There was an eatery selling vegetarian and vegan sandwiches in the northeast corner of the concourse, and I also saw on the opposite end a stand selling low-calorie fruit smoothies.
Quite the change from back in the day.
Standing outside Pauley Pavilion: A statue of John Wooden, the greatest coach in the history of sports. Period. Photo courtesy of maps.ucla.edu
As for the crowd atmosphere…
One word came to mind as I sat down in the second level behind one of the baskets and the current version of the UCLA Varsity Band (which obviously brought back memories):
Not that it was UCLA’s fault as not only was the opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette, a mid-major school without the appeal of a team the Bruins faced two weeks before, longtime blue-blooded elite power Kentucky – who UCLA beat in an exciting fashion in front of a full house,
It was also a weeknight game in a part of Los Angeles which makes it extremely tough to get around because of the density of the area and the subsequent rush-hour traffic.
Plus unlike places like Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina or Duke, there’s a lot more to do in L.A. than in the towns where those schools reside.
Which was probably why the attendance was just 5,460 in a place where the capacity is 13,800.
Not that I minded too much personally, as I had almost the whole row to myself and was able to place my jacket on the neighboring chair and put my feet up on the seat in front of me.
In short, I was quite comfortable.
However, I could see why some five-star recruits would spurn coming to UCLA as the atmosphere at other big hoops schools like the ones I’ve already mentioned have a reputation of being much more charged, with crowds of 20,000 willing to see their guys play Little Sisters of the Poor or Happy Day Pre-School.
(all right, I’m exaggerating, but you know what I mean)
The video board had good graphics, and a strong effort was made to enhance the atmosphere in the form of shirts being thrown and shot into the stands, fans in the student section being asked questions that were so easy and slow pitch softball-like I remarked that they should have their enrollment revoked if they got it wrong, a kiss cam during the second half – all par for the course at sporting events – and something that’s been a traditional staple from before my student days,
A super shot contest at halftime, where fans have 30 seconds to make a lay-up, a free throw, a three-pointer from beyond the arc and a half-court shot.
One halftime event I found fun: a two-on-two sumo basketball game – which is really soccer with hands with the players in sumo suits trying to score goals – which got competitive at the end. It looked pretty cool.
As for the actual game…
There was honestly not that much to tell, the Bruins winning 89-80 after a Louisiana Lafayette team that, like all mid-major teams playing big-time programs, had nothing to lose got to within six points with a little over two minutes left in the game.
Luckily, the crowd was able to do the traditional four-corner “U-C-L-A” chant, done when victory is assured, with about a minute left, the team turning in an OK/not-great-but-a-win-is-a-win performance.
I liked how UCLA’s guards played, Bryce Alford getting my personal player-of-the-game honors for his career-high 27 points, including four three-pointers that came at crucial times.
Fellow guard Issac Hamilton and forward Tony Parker also had good nights with 19 points each, but I wasn’t impressed with Parker’s free throw shooting (three of nine from the stripe – yuck!) as I remarked to someone that if I were coaching against the Bruins, I’d employ a “Hack-a-Tony” strategy.
I had a perfectly nice time in the “House That Wooden Built”.
I don’t think I can express it any clearer than that.
UCLA guard Bryce Alford doing his thing at the game I attended. Photo courtesy of uclabruins.com