California Notebook: At Pauley, success is hard to ignore

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 28 – From the moment opposing teams walk into the University of California-Los Angeles’ Pauley Pavilion, they are barraged with reminders that they are entering the home of not only the best team in college basketball, but also the home of the best teams to ever play in the NCAA.

Before the start of each game, the video screen above the court plays a highlight reel of great Bruin teams. The video starts with the program’s architect, John Wooden, then transitions into highlights of Kareem Abdul-Jabar (then known as Lou Alcindor), Bill Walton and more recent stars, such as the Golden State Warriors’ Baron Davis and Los Angeles Lakers’ Jordan Farmar. And in case you forget, the video plays at the beginning of the second half too.

In an 83-60 loss to the No. 2/1 (AP, ESPN/USA Today), 38 percent shooting and 19 turnovers surely factored negatively for the Colonials, but in a building drowned in glory, winning is anything but easy for the visiting team.

Above the court are 16 banners, celebrating some the school’s 100 national championships in sports from gymnastics to basketball. For those who cannot read the small print high in the rafters, it is hard to miss the “FIRST to 100 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS” logo that emblazons the center of the court. UCLA has more NCAA tournament championship (11) than GW has appearances (10), a fact that seemed nearly impossible to ignore.

The fans are so unmistakably in unison in their heckling that they might as well be one giant, booming voice. Each situation seems to have its own choreographed response, from the “Roll Call” before the opening tipoff to the free-spirited dance members of the cheer squad do in the middle of the court after victories. Whereas GW fans stick to what any first-timer can pick up on, such as chanting obscenities after every foul against the Colonials, Bruins fans’ traditions are just that – long-standing chants that have been tweaked to perfection.

The whole production produces an aura of entitlement and inevitability that seems to beam, “We’re UCLA, you’re not. You can’t win.” Of course, it helps that the team on the court happens to be a collection of some of the most talented players in the country, but in a world where winning is expected, failure does not seem to be a viable option.

GW head coach Karl Hobbs said UCLA’s six McDonald’s All-Americans are the reason it is so good, but Hobbs had his team stay in a hotel outside of Westwood, closer to the University of Southern California, the Bruins’ bitter rival. Perhaps he did it because that was the most accommodating hotel, but Hobbs was more probably trying to delay his young team’s exposure to the UCLA aura for as long as possible.

Even UCLA’s cheerleaders look to be straight out of America’s Next Top Model. It is as if the program does not allow anything less than first class to get near the program, so the opposing teams will not perceive any weakness.

After the game, members of the program’s spirit department gathered in the center of the court and gleefully danced in celebration of their team’s win. They looked as if they had not a care in the world-and with a program like theirs, why should they?

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