An unsubstantiated theory on the unpredictable nature of UCLA Men’s Basketball.
While my alma mater ruins March Madness brackets nationwide, I’ve said the same phrase for weeks, “We’re advancing to the next round but we’re definitely losing this time”. Each round I’m sure this is the end. And so far, I couldn’t be more wrong.
I was a sophomore last time the Bruins made it to the Final Four. I was there in an era of high hopes, Kevin Love, and Gator hatin’.
Every year at the start of the season we were sure we’d be dominant and every year we’d be wrong. Even in a good season we’d find a chance to disappoint. And in recent years, we’re more or less flipping a coin to see if we go to the tournament.
This year has been much the same. So who’s out there in blue and gold? A team with an abysmal end to the season, no eligible seniors, no tournament experience on the court, and an injured all-star. This is what we’re working with.
How does this team make it from First Four to Final Four? I think the answer lies in another phrase I’ve heard ad nauseum for years, “We’re UCLA Basketball.”
This is exactly what you think it is- haughty, obnoxious entitlement. It’s also deep, unflappable, and ever-present.
Mindset is Everything
The worst expression of this mentality is a lazy first half against a lesser opponent. I would sit in the student section of Pauley Pavilion and think, “They know they have to try, right?”. Well not if you walk in thinking you’re invincible. “We’re UCLA Basketball.”
We would give up the lead and come back to the second half with appropriate effort and determination only to find it was too little too late.
Arrogance eventually turned to disappointment as the Pac- 12 (then 10) became stronger overall. A fact, by the way, that still goes ignored and by which we got an Elite 8 full of low seeds that looked like a west coast family reunion.
You’d be on campus after an embarrassing loss to a team from Oregon (God save us) and look at your friends with disbelief and disgust. “We’re UCLA Basketball.”
Losing simply does not compute. The ubiquity of the John Wooden years is like campus oxygen. Just ask the 20ft. mural of the Pyramid of Success in the student rec center. It’s a sense of legacy and pride that I, as a football employee, couldn’t sell to a single high school prospect. I envied the basketball staff like woah for their tour through the hall of fame- showing off a near dozen titles.
When I was in school, we were prime age for parents who were raised on the dominance of the program through the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Kareem, or Lew at the time, was iconic even before his professional peak. Now those fans are grandparents with kids who raised kids to see Bruin Blue as indestructible, regardless of the record.
Our unchangeable mantra takes a slight tonal turn when we win big, or even win medium. “We’re UCLA Basketball.” Cool confidence that shrugs and implies- well, of course. Of course we won. A smugness that stays just on the right side of all-out gloating because, like fans of yesteryear taught us, winning is our birthright.
On it’s very best day, and on the days of the 2021 Tournament, deeply engrained attitude is a calm and a storm. A calm to assuage the fear of the odds, the unlikelihood of success. A storm to stir the spirit and fuel the fight.
The constant ringing in your head, “We’re UCLA Basketball.” is how an 11 seed team comes back in the second half, wins in overtime, and takes down a first seed. And even when it’s a surprise, it’s natural. We’re UCLA Basketball.
But of course, we are not at all. I never have been. How silly to claim parity in the accomplishments I’ve never sweat nor bled for. The sense of ownership of a team’s failure (or more often) success by the fans, alumni, or students is familiar and fallacious.
UCLA Basketball, is at the end of the day, the support staff, coaches, and young men out on the court who put the work in, digest the defeats, and relish the rewards. We are not the same in our claim to the name, but we’re tied in our attachment to history.
On how they pulled the W’s in the tournament, Head Coach Mick Cronin said to the LA Times of his team,
“They were young and they didn’t know how hard it was going to be, but they’ve been willing to put in the work because they want to be winners, they know the legacy they’re trying to live up to at UCLA.”
Hunger, coaches who teach, and something to aspire to are a dangerous combination, ask anyone from Michigan.
So how did we get to the Final Four this year? We’re UCLA Basketball, baby.
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