By Mitch Chortkoff
The last of John Wooden’s 11 UCLA national championships was won 37 years ago. It’s too bad that Bruin fans remain spoiled.
How else can we explain the lack of enthusiasm for the program in the recent past? UCLA has a fine team with a 26-8 record this season, a championship in the Pac-12 tournament and respect from the media across the country as it begins March Madness this week in San Diego.
But crowds have been embarrassingly small all season at Pauley Pavilion and last week, when UCLA won the conference tournament in Las Vegas the problem was magnified.
In the 13,000-seat arena tournament officials revealed Arizona had purchased 10,000 seats. That was obvious from crowd reaction throughout the championship game. UCLA fans occupied only one section and a small number of seats in another one.
So, let’s analyze what’s going on here.
When Wooden retired several competent coaches followed and even when Gene Bartow compiled an impressive record that wasn’t good enough for Bruin fans.
Before long, Bartow left and a parade of coaches followed.
The most successful UCLA coach since Wooden has been Ben Howland, who guided three Bruin teams to Final Four appearances.
He was fired last year and now the coach is Steve Alford, who has guided his team to a 26-8 record going into the NCAA Tournament.
Since Alford was new, Bruin fans seemed to adopt the attitude of let this guy prove himself before we’ll embrace him.
As essentially the visiting team, UCLA quickly established the tempo it wanted against Arizona and had the upper hand most of the way.
UCLA is a high-scoring team that wanted a fast tempo. Arizona scores less but wins with a slower tempo.
Once UCLA raced to a 12-3 lead Arizona had to play faster to catch up. It played UCLA’s game and wasn’t good enough at that pace.
The frequent coaching changes haven’t done much to encourage fan interest
Alford has recruited well for next season and even if star players Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams enter the NBA draft the Bruins should be appreciated as they start next season.
I don’t know when a UCLA team will win a Final Four again but I’m mystified that fans would stop being interested if the ultimate prize isn’t achieved.
The last thing I would have envisioned was a half empty Pauley Pavilion this season. it’s just so puzzling to me.