Who said the drought is over out West? Has anyone seen us play college basketball the last 20 years?
My Weather Channel aerial map still shows large swaths of parched basins and red areas along certain Pacific rims.
But first, some historical backdrop: John Wooden won his 10th, and final, NCAA championship on the West Coast, in 1975.
The score was UCLA 92, Kentucky 85.
Wooden knew he made the right decision to retire when, the story goes, he was approached by a joyous booster on his way out of the arena in San Diego.
“Congratulations coach,” the fan said. “You let us down last year but this made up for it.”
What an an idiotic, incredulous, insensitive, stuck-up, snobby statement.
The year before, after winning seven straight NCAA titles, UCLA lost in the national semifinals, in double overtime, to North Carolina State.
THIS made up for it?
Honestly, though, I totally get what the booster was saying.
When I was a young UCLA fan, between the ages 7 and 14, the Bruins did win every year. I never once had to ask Santa for it.
I actually felt sorry for poor coaches like North Carolina’s Dean Smith, who was never going to win it all while Wooden was employed.
My West Coast arrogance continued into professional adulthood when, two decades ago, I became national college basketball writer for the Los Angeles Times.
The first Final Four I ever covered, or attended, was UCLA’s title-game win over Arkansas in Seattle.
It was 1995 and it seemed like old times–put another log on the fire!
Two years later, Arizona won it all in Indianapolis.
What a fun Miles Simon-led team that was. The Wildcats finished T-5 in the Pac 10 and rose as a No. 4 seed in the Southeast Regional.
I was courtside for all three of Arizona’s amazing wins over top-seeded teams.
Make no mistake, Kansas was supposed to win that year. It was Roy Williams’ best team, led by Jacque Vaughn and Raef LaFrentz.
But Arizona took them out in the regional semifinals, 85-82, and I can tell you Roy cried grown-man tears afterward.
Arizona went on to defeat No. 1 seed North Carolina, in the national semis, and No. 1 seed Kentucky (OT) for the championship.
Simon scored 30 for the victors and afterward, on the court, Bennett Davison messed up Lute’s perfectly coiffed white hair—the only time you’d dare try something like that.
The Pac 10 had won two of the first three Final Fours I covered. Commissioner Tom Hansen was King of Walnut Creek.
Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.
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