It was not a classic game and there was little drama in the ending. But when UCLA had finished its 75-49 stomping of a downtrodden Notre Dame team here Saturday, Larry Farmer was jumping around like a kid, hugging players, shaking his fists and grabbing everyone in sight.
Farmer's emotional outburst had little to do with the fact that his only loss in 90 games as a college player was here. It had almost nothing to do with the Notre Dame-UCLA rivalry. It was, simply, a moment of joy at the end of as traumatic a first week as any college head coach has ever experienced.
"I just felt so good because our players were able to go out on that court, put everything else aside and play together," Farmer said later. "This has been a tough week for everyone at UCLA."
Tougher, perhaps, for Farmer. After serving as an apprentice for six years under three coaches, he became the Bruins coach this season. At age 30, he is already being called, "Wizard Jr.," because he has copied virtually everything his old coach did, including the rolled up program and the intense and meticulously organized practice regimen.
Farmer seemed the ideal choice for the job. He is slender enough to pass for a player, handsome and articulate. It has been six seasons since Wooden won his last of 10 NCAA titles and retired, and Farmer's hiring coincided with a third straight excellent recruiting year for the school.
But in his first three games as a coach, Farmer lost twice as many games as he had lost as a player. He was 89-1 as a player, 1-2 as a coach coming in here.
That however, was minor compared to what was going on off the court. Tuesday, the NCAA sent UCLA the results of its investigation into the athletic program. Although the school has refused to release any information about the findings, it has become common knowledge that the basketball team is facing probation for two years. This March, the NCAA will conduct its championship basketball tournament without UCLA for the first time since 1966.
As his very deep and talented team has struggled, Farmer has spent more time fending off questions about the NCAA investigation than anything else.
"The UCLA job is the best job in the business," Farmer said Saturday. "It's also a very tough job. I never expected it to be easy. You have to suffer through the tough times like in any other job. It's like I've told the players, this is a situation we have no control over, there's nothing any of us can do about it."
This week, Farmer told his players to remember that regardless of the NCAA findings, UCLA would play 27 games and have a chance to win the Pacific-10 title, something it has not done since 1979. But, after a discouraging 57-54 loss to Rutgers Thursday, he had to wonder how much the problems were affecting his team.
"That's why this game meant a lot to us," said junior guard Michael Holton Saturday. "We know what's expected of Coach Farmer and what a tough week it's been for him. We really wanted to play well today for him."
They played well in the second half, after a shaky first 20 minutes. But their first-half difficulties were not that suprising in light of the performance of the Notre Dame students. They jangled keys at the Bruins, chanted, "We Want a Car," and generally tried to remind the UCLA players of their difficulties every chance they got.
The Bruins will see a lot more of such antics before the season is over.
"It was amusing," said Farmer, adding with a smile, "but I don't think it affected the outcome."
There are not likely to be many laughs in Westwood this season. The team is immensely talented, good enough that Farmer can bench a player like Foster, an all-America last year and move a player like Darren Daye to the end of the bench. He made that move Saturday.
"I told Darren that I could really use him," Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps said. "Imagine, a player like him sitting for 39 minutes."
For most of the Bruins, and for Farmer, there is next year. For Michael Sanders, the gifted 6-foot-6 senior, this is it. Sanders started an NCAA championship game as a sophomore and knows that chance will never come again.
"I'll just have to try to think about other things," he said. "My main goal is still there and that's to be a pro, to make the NBA. We may not be able to go to the NCAA's but that isn't going to stop the pro scouts from coming around.
"The important thing for this team to remember is that we're still UCLA, we still have a tradition. If we keep winning like we should, in the long run it won't make that big a difference."
Farmer has told his players that since practice began, when the shadow of the probation possibility loomed. He has repeated it again and again in the last week.
'I've told them that our job is to go out and play ball," Farmer said. "That's all we can do. Our administration will take care of the rest. On the court we can control things, off the court, we can't.
"There's been so much expected, all the talk about all the winning I did as a player, about me being John Wooden Jr. and then all the distractions. They wanted to win for me. I wanted them to realize they have to win for each other.
"I think today for the first time they felt like, 'this can work, we can play well, we are good.' They had fun, they put everything else aside and played basketball. That touched me."