LOS ANGELES, JAN. 3 -- It has been 13 years since John Wooden dramatically retired by winning his 10th national championship as UCLA's coach, beating Kentucky in the NCAA final for the title.
Since then, "The Bruins Are in Ruins" has become almost as familiar a headline here as "Dewey Beats Truman" is in Chicago. UCLA has had five coaches, two Final Four appearances (1976 and 1980) and lots of turmoil. Walt Hazzard, coach No. 5, is in his fourth season. Last season, he won a Pacific-10 championship (which has about as much value these days as the dollar) with a team keyed by players recruited by coach No. 4, Larry Farmer.
Now, with his own recruits, Hazzard has a 4-7 record, attendance at hallowed Pauley Pavilion is lousy, an assistant coach was fired recently because of irregularities in his expense reports and Hazzard is complaining UCLA's academic standards are hurting his recruiting.
As if that isn't enough, one of UCLA's national championship banners is missing. About a week ago, the 1964 banner disappeared. No one knows where it has gone. There is irony here. Not only was 1964 the year of Wooden's first championship, but the captain of that team was Walt Hazzard.
Saturday, the Bruins drew their biggest home crowd of the season -- a near-sellout of 12,544 -- and probably played their best game of the season. Still, they lost, 80-73, to North Carolina. Hazzard and his players ruminated about not having departed Reggie Miller to step forward in the clutch as he did last year. They talked about how young the team is and how conference play is what matters.
All of that may be so. But the truth is there is no way UCLA is going to win the Pac-10 over Arizona, although the Bruins could finish second because the rest of the league is so weak. But they already are 0-2, having lost to California and Stanford.
"We aren't that far away from where we want to be," Hazzard insisted Saturday. "We played well today and we'll get better. I'm not that concerned."
His players are. "When I came here, I knew they were rebuilding," point guard Jerome (Pooh) Richardson said. "But after last year when we won the Pac-10, I thought we'd build on that. Now, we're struggling again. I don't have any answers, I wish I did. But being 4-7 is no fun."
The Bruins' slide accidentally may have been summed up best by North Carolina Coach Dean Smith. Always careful and political in his postgame comments, Smith said Saturday, "I thought we beat what was a very good team today." The emphasis on the last word was Smith's. The message was unmistakable.
Loss May Help Arizona
Although Arizona's 61-59 loss to New Mexico on Saturday night will knock the Wildcats out of the No. 1 spot in the polls, it may help the Wildcats in the long run.
If Arizona had won on Saturday night it probably would have finished the regular season unbeaten, since it has 16 Pac-10 games and a home game against Illinois left on its schedule. That would have meant a huge media blitz and the pressure of starting the NCAA tournament as a major favorite. Now, the Wildcats can stay in the shadows for a while. They played poorly Saturday night from the start, perhaps because they were drained after a very physical 91-85 win over Duke on Wednesday at home. . . .
North Carolina State's Rainbow Classic title was keyed by center Charles Shackleford. The 6-foot-10 junior has been in Coach Jim Valvano's dog house most of the season for lackluster play and was dressed down at halftime of the final against Arizona State after playing poorly in the first half. He then dominated the game down the stretch. If Shackleford plays well, N.C. State can be very good, especially since 6-8 forward Chucky Brown is one of the country's most improved players. . . .
A team to keep an eye on two seasons down the road: Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, under second-year coach Richard Williams, are starting four freshmen -- real ones, not redshirts -- and have six freshmen among their top eight players. They have an 8-2 record right now, though it will be a long winter for such a young team in the Southeastern Conference. If Williams can keep them together, the Bulldogs could be competitive by the time the players are juniors.
Travel Rules Cause No Bliss
Southern Methodist Coach Dave Bliss, like many other coaches, is dead-set against the new rules restricting trips to Hawaii and Alaska. "Some people got upset because teams were playing too many games," he said. "But why does that call for legislation? If a college president thinks his team is playing too many games, all he has to do is say no. Is that so hard? If a few kids in your neighborhood misbehave, do you outlaw all kids or do something about the ones causing the problem? It's absolutely ridiculous."
Hawaii Athletic Director Stan Sherriff agreed with Bliss and added, "It amazes me that the NCAA Council passed a rule directly affecting Hawaii, without once contacting anyone from Hawaii."
The rule, which would limit teams to one trip every four seasons to Hawaii or Alaska or the preseason NIT or Puerto Rico, is likely to be amended at the NCAA convention to one trip west and one trip east (NIT, Puerto Rico) every four years.
The Upset Pick
The Upset Pick is in disarray. Auburn squeezed past Villanova, 65-64, last week. Too bad Pat Dye wasn't at the game to play for a tie. The record is 3-5. This week: Let's say Missouri will win at Kansas' Allen Field House, where Danny Manning has not lost in four seasons, and then, let's say too-young Mississippi State, 10th in the SEC last season, will shock defending champion Alabama.